Student Dissertation Launches San Diego Life Sciences Tools Company, Sirigen

11/4/09

The work leading to Brent Gaylord’s dissertation on using light-emitting polymers to detect bits of DNA was more far more than an academic exercise. His initial paper, and the intellectual property that was subsequently generated, directly lead to the creation of San Diego’s Sirigen.

Gaylord co-founded Sirigen six years ago to enter a business plan competition at UC Santa Barbara, where he earned his doctorate in materials science. Sirigen won the contest, and has been moving forward ever since. Today the venture-backed diagnostics technology startup has 15 employees and formal collaborations with five companies. Gaylord, the company’s chief scientific officer, says it is too soon to identify the collaborators but assures me that “they are names you’ve heard of.” The first product using Sirigen’s technology is expected to reach the marketplace sometime next year, he says.

Sirigen has no intention of producing its own line of complete diagnostic kits or detection devices. Instead the company is pursuing an “Intel Inside” strategy of getting its technology into diagnostic products made by others. Sirigen’s polymers use high-sensitivity fluorescence (HSF) to enhance the ability of conventional assays to detect specific antigens, proteins or bits of DNA. Gaylord says the technology can detect smaller quantities of target substances than conventional tests.

Also, the technology can offer improvements over conventional immunoassays—tests that commonly use an enzyme linked to an antibody to detect the presence of drugs or pathogens, such as the viruses that cause AIDS or hepatitis. Gaylord says existing immunoassays can detect just one target at a time, but an assay that alternatively incorporates Sirigen HSF technology can sense multiple targets with little loss in accuracy.

The result is faster, and potentially cheaper, testing.

Gaylord says the technology is generating interest because it has numerous applications, ranging from biological threat detection to drug discovery. With funding from the Army, for instance, Sirigen successfully demonstrated the ability of its technology to detect … Next Page »

Denise Gellene is a former Los Angeles Times science writer and regular contributor to Xconomy. You can reach her at dgellene@xconomy.com Follow @

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