11 Jul Platypus ready to unveil new commercial lines
Fitchburg, Wis. – Platypus Technologies recently made its way to San Jose to showcase a new line of products and court strategic partners – and the courtship continues.
The life sciences and nanotechnology company is prepared to expand its product lineup beyond its current variety of nano-structured, gold-coated surfaces used by researchers, and management is in discussions with larger firms interested in marketing and distributing the new products.
Platypus recently presented the forthcoming product lines at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Life Sciences Showcase in San Jose, Calif., an invitation-only event that highlighted emerging life science companies funded by the NIH. While no agreements are yet in place, CEO Barbara Israel considers the conference a productive one.
“We’ve talked with a number of larger companies, including one with a strong presence in the Midwest,” she said.
To advance its technologies, Platypus thus far has received over $13 million in federal funds and $3 million in angel financing, all from individual investors, and it is looking to raise another $3 million in private equity.
The company, located in the Fitchburg Technology Campus, is in the process of developing a range of products that will be derived from proprietary platform technology that uses liquid crystals for the rapid detection of molecular interactions. Among those new products are soon-to-be commercialized lines of diagnostic tools, monitors, and sensors based on the use of nanostructured surfaces and liquid crystals.
Israel said the products will be useful in basic research, clinical medicine, environmental studies, and military applications.
The earliest to market will be a cell migratory assay that provides a way to measure the movement of cells. One reason researchers would use this assay is to mimic cancer metastases and gain more knowledge about the factors that control that process. Prostate cancer cells, for example, tend to move to bone marrow, while breast cancer cells tend to move to the liver and lungs.
On the flip side, the cell migration assay also could prove to be valuable in healing wounds if researchers can discover compounds that encourage the movement of healthy cells that promote healing.
A number of life science companies produce these types of assays, but Israel said the Platypus model is a better buy because it is very quantitative, highly reproducible, and enables high throughput screening.
The assays also provide microscopic analysis of cells that are moving, which allows researchers to look at what receptors might be on the surface of these cells, and they will be a tool used by pharmaceutical companies when they screen for drugs that inhibit cancer metastases.
The other market advantage, according to the company, is time. “Our assay, compared to other assays, takes a lot less technician time, and is a lot less variable,” said Chris Murphy, chairman of the Platypus board and a professor in the Department of Surgical Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.
The cell migratory assay will be beta tested this fall, and could hit the market in the first quarter of 2007.
Platypus also has introduced an antibody assay, a liquid crystal-based product, that the company hopes will replace ELISA or the Enzyme Linked Immunoassay after it hits the market in the fourth quarter of 2007. ELISA has been the gold standard in antibody capture, but Israel said Platypus has produced a next generation assay that cuts testing time to one hour (from two to six hours for ELISA) and allows high throughput testing for more effective monitoring of Epizootic (animal to human) diseases.
The Platypus antibody assay requires the use of only one (liquid crystal) reagent – a substance used to bring about a chemical change – and allows researchers to image the anti-bodies on the assay’s surface. In contrast, ELISA sometimes requires the use of specific secondary reagents for various species – reagents that are more expensive and, depending on the species, non-existent.
“The old method has been a hindrance in detecting diseases like West Nile Virus,” Israel said.
The development of both products shows the company has responded well to the needs of the research market, Murphy said. “We’re coming out with two products that there is a strong need for,” he stated.
In addition to Israel and Murphy, the company’s upper management team includes Nicholas Abbott, president and chief scientific officer and a Sobota professor of Chemical Engineering in the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering; and Douglas Hansmann, director of product research and development.
They lead a 20-person staff that also is developing advanced versions of the antibody assay. The company is working with a group in the UW-Madison Microbiology Department on a next-generation antibody assay that could play a role in the detection of avian flu. It also is collaborating with a design group in the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine on another next-generation antibody assay to detect Johne’s Disease, a chronic debilitating intestinal disease in cattle and a significant problem for the dairy industry.
According to the company website, Platypus Technologies is named for the duck-billed animal that has the ability to detect specific prey, often in muddled environments, with the aid of a surface on its bill that is studded with chemical receptors. The name is appropriate enough for a company that helps researchers study chemical reactions with the help of nano-structured surfaces, but Jim Leonhart, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association, views Platypus as more of a pathfinder.
Leonhart said the company’s evolution is a model for early-growth Wisconsin life science companies. He noted that Platypus, which was spun out of university research, now has grown out of its initial space in the MGE Innovation Center, a high-tech incubator located in University Research Park, and has earned government support.
“One great thing about them is that we have a home-grown company here,” Leonhart said. “This is an example of what this industry needs in this state.”
• Platypus granted new liquid crystal patent
• Platypus adds Mirus VP to board of directors
• Platypus raises $1.2 million from private investors
• Platypus Technologies wins another SBIR grant
• Platypus Tech fights cancer with $400,000 SBIR grant