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University of Birmingham spinout ChromaTwist Ltd has secured £300k of seed funding to develop a new class of fluorescent materials for use in bio-sensing and bio-imaging tests for diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

The funding round includes £250k private equity investment from angels and a £50k investment from the University of Birmingham. The investment builds on initial funding of £347k from Innovate UK and £90k match funding from the directors, and will enable rapid development of products that will be ready to enter the flow cytometry market by the end of 2022.

The fluorescent materials were discovered by research groups led by Professor Jon Preece and Dr Alex Robinson from the University’s Schools of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, during a programme of research into photo-conducting liquid crystals. The group, which has world-leading expertise in nanoscale materials, quickly realised they had found compounds with a unique chemistry that allows ‘tunable’ fluorescence, meaning that small adjustments in their molecular structure alter the colour of the light they emit, from blue through to red.

The funding will allow the company to develop the fluorescent materials as ‘signalling beacons’ by linking the dyes to antibodies that recognise disease markers on cells, which can then be used on both bio-imaging and bio-sensing platforms.

The company will be developing and testing the chemistry and biochemistry and its use in flow cytometry over the next twelve months, and expects to be testing products with an incumbent in the flow cytometry market.

Professor Jon Preece commented: “We have recruited and expanded our team of researchers so we can expedite product development for biological imaging and sensing. We expect the resulting dyes to be fully compatible with existing flow cytometry equipment, and are currently seeking development partners who wish to exploit our monopoly breaking technology for the 355nm sector of the flow cytometry market.”

The researchers behind the company 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. Both companies involve an experienced management team including Mark Shepherd, who is CEO of Irresistible Materials and Chairman of ChromaTwist.

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.

The company is also keeping its eyes on longer-term opportunities in other sectors, including security inks, ‘marker dyes’ that enable more efficient sorting of plastic waste for recycling, and applications in organic electronics such as OPVs and OLEDs. To this end, ChromaTwist has already secured a long term supply agreement with a global chemical distributor. ChromaTwist’s technology is protected by patents filed by University of Birmingham Enterprise Ltd.

Kate Buckle
Article by Kate Buckle
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