From Glowing Plants To Nanodiamonds: Y Combinator's Biotechs Debut

8/18/14Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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which drugs to use by scanning a patient’s microbial DNA to detect genes for antibiotic resistance, he says.

Y Combinator is the first outside investor for One Codex, and that stamp of approval has made the current end-of-session fundraising drive easier, says Greenfield: “It would’ve required a lot more work to get the equivalent conversations.” Greenfield says.

That indeed is part of Y Combinator’s mission, says Iorns—serving as a due-diligence gateway for tech investors who don’t have the expertise to evaluate biotech companies.

Iorns herself recruited former NIH scientist Ambika Bumb, founder and CEO of the nanodiamond company Bikanta, into the summer YC session. At the NIH, Bumb was one of the inventors of a form of light-emitting nanoscale diamond dust that has immediate uses for exploring biomolecules under the microscope.

Bumb says she was trying to improve on dyes and other additives that make biological structures visible in optical imaging. The dyes fade after seconds or minutes, and tiny semiconductor crystals called quantum dots blink on and off. But nanodiamonds, made by crushing diamonds into super-fine crystals, neither fade nor blink as they emit fluorescent light for as long as several years, she says.

“They’re basically like little flashlights with infinite battery life,” Bumb says.

Bumb’s team encapsulated the nanodiamonds in silica to keep them from clumping together. The silica coating can be linked to other molecules, such as antibodies, which will bind to specific biomolecules such as DNA or cancer cell surface structures, she says. Such modified nanodiamonds will stick to a researcher’s target of interest in a cell and send out a steady signal. “You can study individual molecules, like a single strand of DNA,” Bumb says.

Bikanta’s first target customers are users of high-resolution microscopy tools. The company plans to build a manufacturing facility for nanodiamond probes in the Bay Area. Bumb predicts the company will have revenues by the end of the year and reach profitability by 2015. The next step is building instruments for microscopy and research, a market estimated at $12 billion. Ultimately, Bumb says, the nanodiamond could be part of medical diagnosis, such as the very early detection of cancer metastasis, and of medical treatment, such as targeted vaccine delivery.

“It’s essentially a new building block for nanomedicine,” Bumb says. She declined to disclose Bikanta’s fundraising totals.

As the five biotechs prepare to move beyond Y Combinator, Iorns says the organization is already getting some feelers from life sciences companies about its winter session, which runs from January to March 2015. Although applications are accepted until October, Iorns encourages biotech companies to apply as soon as possible. She says the traditionally tech-centric accelerator isn’t capping its ratio of biotech-to-tech. “If we got one hundred amazing biotech companies that applied, we’d want to fund all of them.”

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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