By Julia Karow
Oxford Nanopore Technologies has raised £17.4 million ($27.8 million) in new funding from existing and new investors, the company said this week.
The funding, from existing investors Lansdowne Partners, IP Group, and Invesco Perpetual, DNA sequencing marketing partner and investor Illumina, and several new undisclosed US institutions, brings the firm's total funding up to £49.4 million.
Oxford Nanopore, which has been developing a real-time label-free single-molecule DNA sequencing technology as its lead application, plans to use the new investment in part to accelerate the development of its core platform technology, which could be used to analyze different kinds of single molecules.
Another part of the funding will go towards developing the DNA sequencing application, and a third part to develop a protein analysis capability, a new project for the company. According to a spokesperson, the firm plans to expand its head count in all three areas.
"The common elements of our technology platform are now developed enough to merit exploring new applications," said CEO Gordon Sanghera in a statement. "In addition to our lead program in DNA sequencing, we are now initiating a project in nanopore protein analysis. This exploits the value of a platform technology; we are aiming to add substantial shareholder value with only incremental investment."
According to the spokesperson, with the platform now mature — including the instrument, chip, and parts of the informatics —, the time is right to embark on other applications besides DNA sequencing. "We have working platform systems in house that we can now use for not only our work in sequencing but also our early work in protein analysis," she said, whereas in the past, the company needed to make sure it was "not taking resources away from sequencing in favor of other areas."
"Our business model has always been to exploit the platform nature of the technology, but it has not been mature enough until now to start to do this," she said.
She declined to reveal specifics about the core platform, but according to the firm's website, it has developed a silicon chip with a series of microwells arrayed on it, each with an individual electronic channel. Using fluidics, a lipid bilayer can be created at the top of the microwells, and a protein nanopore can be added to each bilayer.
Because of an exclusive marketing and distribution agreement regarding its near-term sequencing technology, which Oxford Nanopore signed with Illumina a year ago, the company cannot currently disclose what progress it has made in DNA sequencing, according to the spokesperson. As part of that agreement, Illumina invested $18 million in the company.
Last year, Oxford Nanopore researchers published a paper in Nature Nanotechnology in which they showed that a protein nanopore can distinguish between the four bases of DNA, as well as methylated cytosine (see In Sequence 2/24/2009).
To sequence DNA, they want to combine this nanopore sensor with an exonuclease that cleaves off each nucleotide and feeds it into the protein pore.
Regarding the protein analysis application, the firm is "not yet at a stage where we are signing a deal with a partner," according to the spokesperson, because it still needs to integrate a nanopore-ligand chemistry with its system.