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On the cutting edge
March 2020
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author
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To begin our monthly roundup of tools and technology news, we have early-March word from Cambridge, U.K.-based Evonetix Ltd.—a synthetic biology company developing a desktop platform for scalable, high-fidelity and rapid gene synthesis—that it had successfully closed its Series B funding.
 
The company raised £23 million (about $30 million) in this round, and the new funding will be used to accelerate internal technology development, including the integration of Evonetix’s technology to enable the synthesis of DNA on a chip. Reportedly, the investment will fund the company through to the introduction of its desktop DNA platform which, once fully developed, should facilitate and enable the rapidly growing field of synthetic biology, with application across industries including healthcare, pharma, biotech, food and agriculture and data storage.
 
The investment will also support Evonetix’s significant recruitment plans as the company continues to increase headcount across scientific, operational and commercial staff located at its facility at Coldhams Business Park in Cambridge.
 
“The backing of both our existing and new investors will enable us to fast-track development, testing and delivery of our highly parallel desktop platform, which will be available to every researcher to accelerate their ability to use biology on a scale not possible with existing approaches,” said Dr. Tim Brears, CEO of Evonetix.
 
Evonetix was founded in 2015 to develop technology that enables the parallel synthesis of DNA on silicon array and thus facilitate the fast-emerging field of synthetic biology, where there is increasing demand for high-throughput and highly accurate DNA synthesis.
 
The company’s technology utilizes a silicon chip, made by microelectromechanical systems processing, that controls the synthesis of DNA at many thousands of independently controlled reaction sites, or ‘pixels,’ on the chip surface in a highly parallel fashion. Following synthesis, strands are assembled on-chip into double-stranded DNA in a process that identifies and removes errors, enabling accuracy, scale and speed that is several orders of magnitude better than conventional approaches.
 
Said Armen Vidian, Evonetix board member and a partner at DCVC, one of the investing companies: “DCVC is pleased to continue its commitment to synthetic biology with its renewed investment in Evonetix. As demand grows to use synthetic biology ... Evonetix will be well positioned to meet those more complex needs with highly accurate, high-throughput, longstrand DNA synthesis.”
 
Read on for more news of life sciences, pharma and biotech technology offerings and updates as of late.
 

Better live-cell analysis?
 
Sartorius highlights its IncuCyte Live-Cell Analysis Systems, calling them “flexible assay platforms, which enable real-time, automated acquisition, measurement and information-rich dynamic analysis of cell/cell model health, function, movement, morphology and kinetics, around the clock—all within an incubator.”
 
Reportedly, cells remain undisturbed within their vessels inside the stable environment of the tissue culture incubator, for days, weeks or even months.
 
As the company notes of its live-cell analysis technology, by automatically gathering and analyzing images around the clock within a standard laboratory incubator, researchers are able to make time-lapsed, kinetic measurements from living cells over days and weeks to provide insight into active biological processes in real time.
 

Expanding an NGS services portfolio
 
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—MOgene, a provider of genomic and bioinformatic services, recently selected Fluidigm’s Advanta assays and microfluidics-based Juno system to expand its next-generation sequencing (NGS) services portfolio. Using Fluidigm’s recently released Advanta RNA-Seq NGS Library Prep Kit as well as the Advanta RNA Fusions and Solid Tumor NGS Library Prep Assays, MOgene says it will increase the scale of its RNA sequencing services offering and introduce new high-value NGS assays for detection of RNA fusions and genetic mutations in cancer.
 
“Our mission at MOgene is to provide best-in-class next-generation sequencing services to research, pharma, biotech and government institutions,” said Craig Morley, CEO of MOgene. “Harnessing decades of experience providing comprehensive, highly customized and data-driven genomic solutions, we take a consultative approach to deliver on basic, translational and clinical research project goals for our clients.”
 
“The Juno microfluidic system and Advanta assays will enable us to efficiently expand our high-quality NGS assay menu and increase our laboratory productivity,” added Shaukat Rangwala, MOgene Senior VP Technical and Business Development. “In particular, we have been very impressed by the performance of the automated Advanta RNA-Seq Kit library preparation workflow in our laboratory and the significant reduction in total hands-on time that it provides.”
 
The Advanta assays, when used with Juno microfluidic systems, provide high-quality NGS results with as little as 10 nanograms of total RNA input. Additionally, they enable faster turnaround times, leading to a more efficient NGS library preparation process.
 

A clinical trial pre-screening digital solution
 
PARIS—Clinical Trials Mobile Application (CTMA), a French startup that specializes in the development of digital solutions for clinical research, recently presented two posters detailing the results of its CT-SCOUT platform during the annual meeting of the European Crohn’s and Colitis Organization in Vienna. CT-SCOUT is a digital solution aimed at enhancing patient recruitment in clinical trials.
 
In a prospective, multicenter, open-label, observational and comparative study in 134 sites involving 644 patients in six countries (France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and Israel), the randomization rate increased by 2.8-fold in sites equipped with CT-SCOUT when compared with non-equipped sites. In patients with ulcerative colitis, the randomization rate increased by a factor of 4, and in patients with Crohn’s disease, it increased by a factor of 1.9.
 
In a second study, the results of the use of the app in a Phase 3 inflammatory bowel disease program in France showed that sites equipped with CT-SCOUT randomized significantly more patients than those non-equipped. In sites with the CT-SCOUT Premium mode (all functionalities of the app), randomization increased by 4.5-fold as compared to non-equipped sites, and by 1.6 as compared to the sites with Freemium study mode (limited functionalities of the app).
 
CTMA, created in 2014, developed CT-SCOUT, an innovative pre-screening digital solution, to allow physicians to detect relevant patients for ongoing on-site clinical studies in real time. Designed by doctors for doctors and clinical research teams, CT-SCOUT is a multiplatform web application that enables any doctor to become a potential recruiter. Beyond detecting eligible patients, it also facilitates the coordination of the research team in just a few clicks, the company says. CT-SCOUT’s proprietary technology is based on a unique algorithm designed by CTMA and is customized for each center.
 

Sphere Fluidics expands to increase supply of Pico-Surf surfactant
 
CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Sphere Fluidics, a company commercializing single-cell analysis systems underpinned by its patented picodroplet technology, recently announced investment in the production and supply of its proprietary biocompatible surfactant, Pico-Surf, for reliable and highly stable droplet generation and processing. Sphere Fluidics will expand operations to meet demand for large-scale commercial supply of its high-performing surfactant for use in a wide range of microfluidic application workflows.
 
Pico-Surf is a high-quality and animal-origin-free biocompatible surfactant optimized to support the formation of aqueous solution-in-oil picodroplets. Sphere Fluidics aims to increase production of Pico-Surf by threefold in 2020, while maintaining its industry-leading standards, through significant investment of resources in manufacture, quality control processes and workforce. As part of Sphere Fluidics’ range of specialist chemicals, Pico-Surf is designed to work effectively and flexibly across a broad range of microfluidic systems, including the company’s proprietary single-cell analysis platforms and applications, such as molecular biology assays, cell secretion assays and cell growth studies.
 
The unique and patented molecular structure of Pico-Surf reportedly stabilizes droplets, and retains and protects their cellular and molecular contents over a wide range of temperatures and biological conditions, helping to ensure high cell viability for improved assay performance.
 
Code: E032028

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