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In-Q-Tel Backs Quanterix to Expand Pathogen Detection for Defense Applications

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By Molika Ashford

Quanterix announced last week that In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit that delivers technology to the US intelligence community, has invested in Quanterix to further develop its pathogen detection capabilities while it begins work on expanding its technology platform to DNA detection.

IQT did not disclose the amount of its investment in Quanterix, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that has been advancing its single-molecule array platform, SiMoA, for use in molecular diagnostics for cancer and cardiovascular disease and more recently for protein-based pathogen detection.

Syd Ulvick, vice president of physical and biological technologies pracitce at IQT, said in a statement that the ability of Quanterix's platform to measure low-abundance molecules "offers great promise for applications in both the private and public sectors."

Martin Madaus, CEO at Quanterix, told BioArray News that the nature of IQT's clients has meant the company's exact interests remain opaque, but that investment from the nonprofit will support development of Quanterix's pathogen detection capabilities.

"This is the type of field where they'll never tell you exactly what it's for," he said of IQT's intelligence-related activities.

Quanterix has already generated what it considers to be promising data on protein-based disease detection, and Madaus explained that the company has now started work to make the technology attractive for DNA targets as well, though he did not explicitly say that In-Q-Tel's investment would support this work specifically.

"The Quanterix platform has been validated with proteins and works quite well for [pathogen detection], but now we want to see whether we have similar success for DNA," Madaus said. "We have data on infectious diseases, targeting capsid proteins of certain viruses, but for certain other infectious diseases, it is better to target DNA and we want to see how well we can do [that,]" he said.

Overall, the company's strategy is to establish its platform as a broadly applicable tool, Madaus said, "for protein, RNA, DNA, and potentially for cells as well."

Founded in 2007 on technology developed at Tufts University, Quanterix's platform consists of arrays of femtoliter-sized reaction vessels, each sized to confine a single molecule of interest and etched into the end of an optical fiber bundle.

The optical fiber bundle carries light into and out of each vessel, allowing each well to function as an independent assay for a single molecule. Quanterix’s system also features a proprietary image-capture device and image-analysis software.

Earlier this year the company announced a partnership with Sony DADC to manufacture Quanterix's single-molecule arrays on optical disc consumables (BAN 7/26/2011).

In August, Quanterix also announced a partnership with Stratec Biomedical to develop the automated analysis system for processing the company's single-molecule arrays. (BAN 8/16/2011)

Madaus said Quanterix is expecting Stratec to make a "fantastic, fully-automated instrument for us, [which] will be kind of a medium-throughput, around 800,000-[assay]-a-day kind of instrument" for both research and for IVD use.

The Sony disc arrays will run on this instrument. "In contrast to half-automated systems it will be fully-automated, so really simple to use and with a full menu of assays when we launch it in 2013," Madaus said.

Quanterix initially positioned the system for diagnostics and is continuing to develop a number of tests, including diagnostics for prostate cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and Crohn's disease.

Madaus said that work on the prostate cancer assay is the furthest along, and that the company is also considering a troponin-based cardiovascular test. "We're looking at that," he said. "Certainly we can do a very sensitive cardio assay … One has to look at the market, but certainly the technology is really good at that."

He said the company's tau protein assay — for Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases — has also shown promising results.

For infectious diseases, Madaus said Quanterix is now expanding its protein-based virus detection work. "It's not a new market, but [we have] … a nice method to detect viruses at very low levels without amplification, so I think that’s a good application [and a] very good market," he said.

In December 2011, Quanterix also announced it had received a $250,000 contract from the US Department of Homeland Security to develop an assay capable of detecting single molecules of botulinum toxin within complex environmental samples.

Concerning DNA detection, the company still needs to assess how well the platform performs, Madaus added. "Now that [the] proteins are confirmed — we know they work well and we have 20 assays — we want to move on to the next group of targets to demonstrate broad applicability of the platform. DNA is just logical."

Madaus said that Quanterix is expecting to release prototypes of the SiMoA platform for protein measurement this year, potentially in the third quarter. The company plans to launch in the biomarker discovery market in 2013, and to release an IVD version in 2014, he said.


Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioArray News? Contact the editor at mashford [at] genomeweb [.] com.

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