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Ayoxxa Closes on $4M in Funding to Continue Developing Label-Free Bead Array Platform

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Biotech firm Ayoxxa Biosystems said this week that it has added a second closing to its Series A financing, bringing the round to a total of €3 million ($4 million). Also this week, it entered into a research collaboration agreement with the National University of Singapore.

The company aims with both moves to drive development and commercialization of its in situ encoded bead-based arrays, or IEBA, immunoassay platform, CEO Andreas Schmidt told ProteoMonitor.

Spun out of the NUS in 2010, Ayoxxa is developing its IEBA product as an alternative to bead-based immunoassay systems offered by companies like Meso Scale Discovery and Luminex, Schmidt said, noting that the platform's ability to function without labeled beads is its key competitive advantage.

Existing bead-based immunoassay microarrays typically require some sort of labeling technique to allow researchers to keep track of which beads are linked to which antibody. Luminex's xMAP system, for instance, uses fluorescent bar codes read via flow cytometry to do this.

The IEBA platform, on the other hand, tracks the location of the beads within its arrays using brightfield imaging, eliminating the need for physical labels.

The company's chips come in a 384-well format, with each well containing roughly 20,000 microcavities, and each microcavity fitting exactly one bead. To begin a multiplex experiment, a user flushes over the chip a mixture of beads containing the antibody to the first target of choice. A portion of these beads settle randomly into wells, and then the remaining beads are washed away.

Next, the user makes a brightfield image of the chip, from which the platform's software is able to determine the coordinates of every bead that has settled into a well. Having obtained these coordinates, the user can now apply beads containing the antibody to their second target of interest. The excess beads are again washed off and the chip is imaged to determine the coordinates of this second set of beads.

"In the end we end up with a very complex array with [for instance] 10,000 beads in each [of the 384 wells], and we know the position of every bead and which antibody is on it, but we didn't have to put any labels on it," Schmidt said.

Consequently, the chip can be read by a wide variety of existing instruments, without the need for additional equipment, he said. "We don't need flow cytometers. You don't need to buy any new technical equipment. We can simply look at spec sheets for readers that are used either in academia or industry or pharma research, and we can tell you right away if [a given] reader works."

Ayoxxa has developed a list of readers on which it has tested the chip and can recommend to researchers using the platform, Schmidt said. He added that the company is currently looking to partner with a manufacturer of chip readers on a "co-marketing, co-branding" deal around the platform.

"We're trying to develop a workflow that is as easy as any standard plate ELISA assay," he said. He noted that in internal benchmarking work, the system had shown comparable sensitivity and reproducibility to existing bead-based immunoassay platforms.

Though an NUS spinout, Ayoxxa moved its headquarters to Cologne, Germany, in April 2012, drawn there by funding opportunities and the area's high-end engineering resources, Schmidt said. In September, the company closed on €2.6 million in funds from parties including Welling Partners Venture Capital, NRW.Bank, and High-Tech-Grunderfonds. This week it added another €400,000, with KW Bankengruppe joining its roster of investors.

The company plans to raise additional funds in the near future, Schmidt said, although he declined to give a timeline. It has added 14 employees to its Cologne office since opening, bringing its total full-time headcount to 21 – 15 in Germany and six in Singapore.

The NUS research collaboration agreement that the firm announced this week will concentrate on furthering development of its bioinformatics tools as well as looking into non-fluorescence based detection technologies, Schmidt said.

Ayoxxa, he said, doesn't aim to become an assay development or diagnostics firm, but is focused on being a platform company. The system is still in the development stage, and he declined to say when the company might offer a mass-produced, commercial version of the product. However, he noted that it plans to provide chips to several research partners later this year.

"We won't produce huge quantities, but we will supply it to what we think are high-value partners that will publish with it or key opinion leaders in the industry," he said. He added that the company is also negotiating with a large pharma firm to implement the platform in high-throughput screening work.

Ultimately, Schmidt said, the company plans to sell the IEBA chips with sets of basic antibody panels included and the remainder left free for customers' own assay development work.

"There will be some basic content on the chip … markers of general interest, quality markers that will tell you used your washing buffers correctly and so on, and then you can add on content," he said.

The question, he said, "is how can you enable people to become developers … [such as a researcher] in academia or in a core facility that has cool markers but who wouldn't [normally] create a commercial kit?"

"We want to make the process very smooth for them to be able to transfer [their markers] onto" the IEBA platform.

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