Cambridge, Mass.-based BioScale announced this week that it has secured $25 million in a recent funding round led by new investor Morningside Venture.
The company will use the proceeds to fund commercialization of its recently launched ViBE protein analytics system, a label-free, non-optical protein detection and quantitation platform based on BioScale's proprietary Acoustic Membrane MicroParticle, or AMMP, technology.
Founded in 2002 by CEO Mark Lundstrom, BioScale has operated largely under the radar for the last decade. The ViBE system, which went to market this May, marks its first commercial product release.
"We chose to hold our thunder until we were ready to actually start shipping the product, and that's where we are now," Lundstrom told ProteoMonitor. "We brought in this round of funding to provide resources for commercialization of the technology. We're building up the sales and service and manufacturing teams now to bring the product into the market in a broad way."
The ViBE system relies on an acoustical, as opposed to an optical, detection system for protein analytics. A capture agent like an antibody is attached to a resonating membrane and then exposed to a sample containing the analyte of interest. The analyte is captured by the affinity agent bound to the membrane, which adds mass to the membrane and in turn changes the frequency of the membrane's oscillations. The system detects and quantitates the analyte of interest by measuring these changes in frequency.
"Essentially, we're making a standard sandwich assay, but using a very novel and new acoustic detector that gives us great performance in a complex matrix," Lundstrom said. "Fundamentally, ViBE technology is very strong at measuring low level proteins in a complex matrix."
Studies posted on the company's website show that the ViBE platform is capable of detecting IL-6 protein in serum at levels below 1 pg/ml and of quantitation of IL-6 protein in serum at levels of approximately 1 pg/ml – in both cases offering roughly ten times the sensitivity of a standard ELISA assay.
"Typically, what we see is a log to a log-and-a-half better performance in complex samples," BioScale COO Chip Leveille told ProteoMonitor.
The company envisions initial demand for the ViBE technology coming from two primary areas, Leveille said – biomarker development and bioprocessing. One of the firm's outside partners, who the firm has not disclosed, is presently using the platform for preclinical testing of several identified markers, he said.
"There's a need to have a technology that's robust and sensitive enough to work within complicated matrices without a significant amount of sample prep, and then as you move down into the sampling fluid where the [protein] concentrations are significantly less, you need the sensitivity to be able to pick up what you're actually looking for in what is still fairly complicated matrices to be able to extract the protein," he said. "So we see it having a big role in that context."
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This April at the Society for Biomolecular Sciences annual meeting, Takeda Pharmaceutical subsidiary Millennium presented posters detailing the use of the ViBE system for analyzing the protein biomarkers phospho-Akt and Gadd34 in cell culture and tumor lysates. According to the posters, the ViBE platform compared favorably with Western blotting and AlphaScreen bead-based assays in terms of data obtained and the simplicity of the workflow.
The ViBE line currently comprises two products – a lower-throughput manual unit called the ViBE Bioanalyzer and an automated high-throughput unit called the ViBE Workstation. Prices for the units range from $50,000 for the Bioanalyzer up to $100,000 for the Workstation. The two units are designed to work as a modular system, meaning that pre-existing Bioanalyzer units can be upgraded to Workstations.
"It's a strategy we developed during our product development phase where we realized there might be purchasers with different price points and different needs," Lundstrom said. "We have one unit called the Bioanalyzer that can be used as an assay development tool or a smaller throughput system, and then once the customer uses that, if they have higher volume requirements we can basically ship the automated Workstation that the Bioanalyzer plugs into."
"You just plug it in. There are a couple of screws, a couple of cables, and then the software initializes and you're up and going," Leveille said.
The company began taking orders for the system in the middle of May and has just started to ship the first of those orders. Lundstrom declined to name any specific customers or disclose revenue projections based on sales of the system, but he said that "the level of interest from both biopharma as well as academics has been quite strong."
"We've had a nice combination of beta users and initial customers from biotech companies, pharmaceutical companies, academic labs, and government labs," he said.
In addition to Morningside, previous BioScale investors New Science Ventures, WFD Ventures, F2 Ventures, and several individual investors participated in the recent funding round. While the company is currently focusing these funds on commercializing the ViBE platform, Lundstrom says he expects that it will launch other products based on the AMMP technology in the future.
"The AMMP technology is really well suited to be in a wide variety of form factors," he said. "This isn't something that's constrained by optical pathways and the like – this is something that can be reduced basically to electronics. So there's a wide variety of form factors that the technology can enable all the way from an automated system that does high-throughput analysis down to a point-of-care instrument. It's based on one basic principle that can go from a handheld all the way up to a centralized lab."