BioScale, Mastering Acoustics for Molecular Detection, Gets Nod from Millennium Pharma

7/28/10

Until recently, BioScale had operated out of the public eye for some eight years as it engineered a new way of measuring biological samples with sound wave technology. Now the Cambridge, MA-based startup has garnered some validation for its acoustic technology from a very visible player in biotech—Millennium, The Takeda Oncology Company.

Cambridge-based Millennium has used BioScale’s technology to measure cancer-related proteins for its drug research. While the results of the research have not been published, Millennium revealed in two posters at a recent science meeting that BioScale’s analyzers bested in a few ways the traditional Western blot method and Waltham, MA-based PerkinElmer’s (NYSE:PKI) AlphaScreen system in detecting specific proteins in tumor samples from cell cultures and mice. Millennium is the first group outside of BioScale to report such findings, says Mark Lundstrom, founder and chief executive of the startup.

The firm’s analyzers are designed to detect proteins in multiple types of samples, including blood, urine, and tissue, among others. In pharmaceutical research, measuring the presence of proteins in a sample can show whether a drug is hitting its molecular target. In diagnostics, the technology can be applied to tell whether a person has a virus or other molecular indicators of disease in their system.

The startup—which made its first public announcement last month about the closing of a $25 million Series C funding round—has made its technology available to Millennium and other top corporate and academic research groups as part of a beta release, Lundstrom says. The CEO says expects more studies involving the firm’s technology to be revealed in the coming months, though he wouldn’t say yet who else is using the technology.

At Millennium, researchers found that BioScale’s “Vibe” analyzers required fewer steps than a protein-measuring technique known as Western blot. Also, the acoustic analyzers provided measurements from complex tumor samples, which can often skew results when measured with optical systems. Millennium, which is a subsidiary of Japanese drug giant Takeda Pharmaceutical, tested the BioScale analyzers to measure two specific molecules: a DNA damage protein and a protein that helps tumors grow. In the DNA damage protein tests, Millennium found that BioScale’s results were devoid of the chemical and optical interferences it found in PerkinElmer’s optical system.

“When you look at the data that Millennium has put out, it basically concludes that the more complex the [sample] is, the better we do against the competition,” Lundstrom says.

BioScale’s analyzers consist of tried and true technologies that together advance protein detection and quantification, according to Lundstrom. Its system uses a combination of magnetic microparticles and acoustic membranes to capture and measure specific proteins by detecting frequency changes of a vibrating membrane.

BioScale, formed in 2002, is the second company to be co-founded by Lundstrom and MIT engineering professor Ed Crawley. (Lundstrom, 41, is one of Crawley’s former students in MIT’s department of aeronautics and astronautics.) The first of their companies was Cambridge-based Active Control Experts (ACX), a developer of sensor systems to control vibrations, perhaps most notably in K2 skis during the late-1990s. In 2000, San Diego-based Cymer, a maker of laser devices for the semiconductor industry, acquired ACX in an all-stock deal.

Lundstrom and Crawley have received plenty of financial support for their latest venture. China’s Morningside Venture led the firm’s latest round of funding, which included return investor F2 Ventures from London, as well as a pair of New York-based venture firms that previously backed the company, New Science Ventures and WFD Ventures. Lundstrom says his firm raised “tens of millions” of dollars in its two previous venture rounds, but he declined to provide specific figures. The company has also garnered research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Navy, and U.S. Army for various application of its technology.

With its latest round of financing, BioScale is expanding its sales and marketing team and investing in manufacturing. This includes finding a larger facility to house manufacturing as well as research and operations, Lundstrom says, which will likely require the company to move later this year to a new facility that can put all those elements of its business under one roof. The manufacturing will include final assembly and testing of its instruments and test cartridges. The 40-person firm is now considering multiple sites in the Boston area, the CEO says.

Asked why his company has kept quiet for so long, Lundstrom said: “I believe that when you start to communicate to the science community, the financial community, and the press, you want to make sure that your publicity does not get ahead of your capability. So I wanted to make sure that we had a product worked in complex samples and was doing great things in the hands of prestigious customers before we told the world what we’re doing.”

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