Akrivis Sets Out to Improve Diagnostics and Therapies with Northeastern U. Tech

11/23/10

Cambridge, MA-based Akrivis Technologies is named after a Greek word that means precision and accuracy. It’s too early to say whether it can fulfill that promise, but if it does, it could provide highly sensitive diagnostics for serious health conditions, targeted drug delivery for cancer, and even a platform on which to integrate drugs and companion diagnostics.

Joel Berniac, the co-founder and CEO of Akrivis, filled me in on this versatile technology during a recent call—following up on our initial chat about his company at an Xconomy networking reception held at Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company last month. What I mostly remembered from that conversation: Berniac has an office at the Cambridge Innovation Center, he got his MBA from Northeastern University in Boston, his company’s technology was invented by a professor at the same university, and the chief executive speaks with a French accent.

Everything else we talked about over drinks needed further explanation, and the rest of this post mostly covers what I learned in my second conversation with Berniac. The startup, which has raised about $500,000 from angels since it was founded in 2009, is being built on technology from Northeastern. The main goal is to develop a signal amplification system for diagnostics and imaging inside the body. The same core system might also be useful in delivering chemotherapy drugs and targeted doses of radiation to treat cancer. And at the center of the system is a biodegradable polymer that can carry multiple types of molecules. Ban-An Khaw, the co-founder and chief scientist of Akrivis, is the primary inventor of the technology and a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Northeastern.

It’s early days at Akrivis, and Berniac warned me after our latest interview that things at the firm—even the name of its core technology, now called “Zeptacsys”—might change in the coming months. For now, the firm plans to generate some quick cash by selling its technology as reagents for research purposes. The CEO said that the firm is in the process of figuring out how to tap this research market, which would not require his firm to gain any FDA clearances to begin sales. Revenue from this market would help fund studies to get the technology approved as a clinical diagnostic, Berniac says.

He showed me some images that illustrate how the firm’s technology might be a vast improvement over Elisa, a standard immunoassay technology. Akrivis’s system uses some of the same binding antibodies and materials as Elisa tests, but the firm’s novel carrier unit is supposed to amplify the signal, without adding background noise, from each biomarker it detects in order to increase the sensitivity of the system. A potential application of the technology would be to detect early biomarkers for assessing a patient’s risk of having a heart attack, Berniac says.

Still, there are a number of young companies in the Boston area and beyond that are developing technologies that could beat standard Elisa tests in the accuracy department. For example, Cambridge, MA-based … Next Page »

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