Nanotechnology and life sciences firm NanoInk announced this week a $65 million financing led by Lurie Investments.
Roughly 40 percent of the funding will go toward NanoInk's BioDiscovery division, where it will be used to build out the company's sales and marketing organization and fund development of new products based on its protein nanoarray platform, CEO James Hussey told ProteoMonitor.
In particular, the company plans to launch within the next three to four months new high-throughput, automated 48-, 96-, and 384-well nanoarray formats. These formats, which will compete with conventional microarrays, will be compatible with robotic systems that are compliant with standards set by the Society for Biomolecular Screening.
"This is a high-throughput, robotically assisted format that fits up with current SBS robotics, but it's running at the nanoscale level instead of the microscale," Hussey said.
While current microarray formats typically deal in nanoliter volumes, Hussey noted that the new NanoBioDiscovery platform will be capable of working with attoliters – reducing by nine orders of magnitude the volume of materials and reagents required.
The company expects the new platform to be popular with researchers interested in doing high-throughput experiments involving limited samples, Hussey said, citing hyper-miniaturized ELISAs and protein screening in tumor tissue lysates as two potential applications.
"Some people don't have a lot of sample volume. So how do you do that in a microtiter well format? Not very well," he said. "If you do [tissue] lysates and you have ten microliters [of lysate], microtiter wells are of no interest or value to you at all."
The company also expects cost savings offered by the lower reagent requirements to be a draw.
"We have customers who have antibodies that are $800 per microliter. Running one microliter microtiter plate could cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said. "With one microliter we can print 50 tests, each of which has 5,000 data points. The costs savings are enormous with the reduction in reagents, and it opens up all sorts of new areas to look at."
The company is "moving from what I would call the 'academic one-off' laboratory," he said. "The one-off academic laboratory would have been OK with manual [nanoarray formats], but any kind of high-throughput, high-value screening lab needs the high-throughput, robotically supported format."
Noting that the platform has drawn particular interest from pharmaceutical firms, Hussey said he estimates that "95 to 98 percent of the [nanoarray] business will be custom plates that we are asked to print for people." That expectation, he noted, is based on the company's experience with its contract research service it launched in September of last year (PM 09/10/2009).
"What's happened so far is people have come to us on a contract research basis and wanted us to do the initial work – assay development, assay roll out, all that – and then they want us to transfer the assay to them," he said. "They don't have enough experience in nanoscale assays, so the idea is we do the assay development for them, and then we transfer the technology whenever they are ready."
Established in 2001, NanoInk launched the BioDiscovery division in December 2008 to commercialize protein arrays produced via its dip pen nanolithography-fabrication technique, which uses sharp probes to spot biomolecules onto a surface — in this case, a glass slide (PM 03/19/2009).
In February of 2009, the division launched its NLP 2000 instrument – a desktop protein nanoarray fabrication device. This February it released the first of its protein assay kits – a human cytokine profiling assay – and, as reported by ProteoMonitor sister publication BioArray News, it's preparing three additional protein assay kits for market: An angiogenesis kit that will be available in November; a rodent toxicology kit to be released early next year; and an Alzheimer's disease kit being developed with an unnamed pharmaceutical firm (BAN 10/12/2010).
Hussey said he expects, however, "that the standardized kit business will be the smallest part of our business." His hopes for the soon-to-be-released high-throughput nanoarray platform, on the other hand, are considerably more ambitious.
"I'm fairly confident that in the next two to three years, just for cost, convenience, accuracy, simplicity, it's going to replace microtiter wells," he said. "I think microtiter wells will be a thing of the past."
George Mason University professor Emanuel Petricoin, whose lab owns an NLP 2000 instrument that it uses in atomic force microscopy studies, agreed that nanoarray technology presents interesting opportunities, telling ProteoMonitor that "using smaller geometries drives costs down" and "opens up all kinds of possibilities for platform construction that you couldn't do [on a microscale]."
However, he said, "there still hasn't been a killer application [for nanoarrays] where you're like, 'OK, if we didn't have this thing nanosized we couldn't do it.'"
He cited as an example the reverse phase protein array technology that he co-developed in 2001 with fellow George Mason professor Lance Liotta for high-throughput, multiplexed protein detection.
"[For] the reverse phase arrays we really don't need to get down to a nanoprint because [they're] so sensitive and require so little sample that going down to a nanosize is more of an academically sexy thing to do, but not really practically helpful," he said.
Perhaps with such attitudes in mind, Hussey said that NanoInk plans to pay particular attention to areas like China and South America that don't have as extensive a microarray infrastructure as the US and Europe.
"When we look at places like China and South America, places where the infrastructure is maybe not so built out, those are markets that are hot and are much more accepting of technology because they don't have the infrastructure," he said. "If you're in South America, do you want to try to get into the microtiter business, or do you want to jump ahead and be in the nanotiter business as it grows?"
The new nanoarray platform, Hussey said, will be "very competitively priced" compared to microarrays and will launch globally at the end of the year.
NanoInk currently has roughly 100 employees. According to Hussey its sales are around $10 million per year.