ChromaTwist Ltd, a University of Birmingham spinout, has secured £487,000 ($573,000) of equity investment to develop its new class of fluorescent dyes for the flow cytometry reagent market.
Existing investors, Angel from angelgroups and the University of Birmingham brought in funds which will allow ChromaTwist to continue product development with industry partners and enable rapid development of products for market entry as soon as next year (2023).
Flow cytometry is an analytical technique used by hospital laboratories, the pharmaceutical industry, and university research departments, for medical research, vaccine and drug development and disease diagnosis. It uses dyes to detect or measure the characteristics of cells or particles.
ChromaTwist says the market for these reagents is showing significant growth, with an estimated value of $2.9 billion by 2027.
ChromaTwist: exceptional versatility
One of the central challenges in flow cytometry is the ability to detect multiple targets from the same sample, known as ‘multiplexing’. The novel dyes in development by ChromaTwist show exceptional versatility with a large range of ‘signaling colors’, and this should enable simultaneous tests to be carried out on a single sample, which increases throughput and speeds output from existing flow cytometry equipment.
The dyes were discovered by the research groups led by Jon Preece from the School of Chemistry and Alex Robinson from the School of Chemical Engineering, during a program of research into photo-conducting liquid crystals.
The group, which has world-leading expertise in nanoscale materials, quickly realized they had found materials with a unique chemistry that allows tunable fluorescence, meaning that small adjustments in the molecular structure alter the color of the light they emit, from blue through to red, and potentially into the infra-red. The technology is protected by a suite of patents owned by ChromaTwist.
The funding builds on initial grant funding of £347k from Innovate UK, £90k funding from the directors in 2019, and a first equity funding round of £430k from directors, Angel investors and the University of Birmingham in 2021.
Since then, ChromaTwist has made significant progress, developing a proof-of-concept product and initiating testing with major players in the flow cytometry reagent market.
Preece said: “Following a year of rapid product development and customer engagement, we have now moved to our own dedicated laboratory and will be expanding our team of scientists, so we can expedite our dye development for flow cytometry. We expect the resulting dyes to be fully compatible with existing flow cytometry processes and equipment, and are looking forward to the next 12 months working with industry partners.”
ChromaTwist: one to watch
The founders Preece and Robinson are serial innovators, who have already worked together on an existing spinout, Irresistible Materials Ltd, which develops organic materials for new lithographic processes including e-beam and EUV lithography. ChromaTwist has an experienced management team including chairman, Mark Shepherd (and CEO Irresistible Materials Ltd), who has extensive experience in licensing and spin out companies, and Darren Wake, who has three decades of executive level experience including M&A.
ChromaTwist has already received commercial accolades and was nominated as ‘one to watch’ in The Spinoff Prize 2020, which is organised by Nature Research, part of Springer Nature, and German leading science and technology company Merck KGaA, as well as being Royal Society of Chemistry Emerging Technologies finalists in 2019.
ChromaTwist is also evaluating longer-term opportunities in other sectors, including security inks and applications in organic electronics, having demonstrated the materials can be incorporated into OPVs and OLED devices as the active element. To this end, ChromaTwist has sold 18 of its dyes to Sigma-Aldrich, part of the Life Science business sector of Merck, and is open to initial discussion with companies about potential partnerships and collaborations in these areas.