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April 28th, 2022

CytoTronics launches to tackle drug discovery and phenotypic screening

Harvard researchers' startup advances a unique complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS)-powered drug discovery platform that opens a new dimension in cell-based screening

CytoTronics, a biotechnology company building a next-generation complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS)-powered drug discovery platform, today announced it has raised $9.25M in initial seed funding, led by Anzu Partners with participation from Milad Alucozai (BoxOne Ventures) and institutional investors. CytoTronics will use this seed funding to advance its breakthrough platform that utilizes computer chip technology to conduct a suite of electrical and electrochemical cell-based assays.

The CytoTronics platform offers an integrated single-cell resolution electrochemical-imaging array. Based upon a decade of research and proof-of-concepts developed and pioneered at Harvard University, the CytoTronics team aims to re-engineer life science data acquisition. The unique technology arose from a collaborative research project among electrical engineers, chemical biologists, and biomedical researchers at Harvard, where the CytoTronics founding team recognized its potential to revolutionize drug discovery across various therapeutic areas. The suite of patented technologies has been licensed exclusively to CytoTronics under an agreement coordinated by Harvard Office of Technology Development to enable its commercial development.

Modern drug discovery relies upon screening for effective compounds to bind to known cellular targets, which is often an expensive and time-consuming process. CMOS technology previously revolutionized the consumer electronics industry through device miniaturization, and now CytoTronics is leveraging the same CMOS technology to measure and manipulate live cells. The advanced CMOS electronics developed by CytoTronics achieves single-cell spatial resolution that greatly enhances the accuracy of the measured cell-biology information and enables optics-free images of growing cells. Additionally, the circuit integration facilitates the packaging of these techniques into small, plug-and-play devices for affordable and at-scale research for drug discovery applications.

“We are targeting the roughly $20 billion low-throughput cell-based assay market with the CytoTronics platform and plan to quickly progress to higher-throughputs – in short, making drug discovery research more precise, automatic, repeatable, and scalable,” said Jeffrey Abbott, Ph.D., co-founder & CEO at CytoTronics. “This seed funding allows us to commercialize our research-demonstrated devices and move towards becoming a unique electronics player in the now optics-dominated, cell-based drug screening global market.”

The innovation underpinning CytoTronics’s technology was developed in the labs of cofounders Donhee Ham, Ph.D., the Gordon McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Hongkun Park, Ph.D., the Mark Hyman Jr. Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Physics in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. CEO Abbott and Chief Technology Officer Vince Wu, Ph.D., were advised by Park and Ham as researchers at Harvard, where they contributed to the inventions over the course of several years. Abbott and Wu are also joined on the CytoTronics Board of Directors by Cofounder and Chief Business Officer Duane Sword, Executive Chairman Douglas Kahn, and Anzu Partners Principal Jenna Abelli.

“Thanks to the support from our investors, we have the opportunity to further develop the CytoTronics platform to offer unique information and statistics from cells in real-time at a much higher resolution than previously possible,” said Wu. “Our technology will enable scientists and researchers to capture highly valuable image-based information from cells in real-time and in high-throughput, which will potentially revolutionize early-stage drug-discovery process in multiple areas such as oncology, gastroenterology, cardiology, and neurology.”

“We are proud to lead CytoTronics’s seed round and look forward to supporting the team as they move into the next phase in developing this unique CMOS-powered biotechnology platform,” said Jenna Abelli, principal at Anzu Partners. “We believe the high-resolution images and data readouts from the CytoTronics platform have the potential to unlock new avenues in bioinformatics where novel insights are easily gleaned from mining the rich multi-parametric data and applying it to therapeutic research and phenotypic screenings.”

“The technology from the Ham and Park labs enables, truly, a leap ahead in electrochemical measurement of cultured cells, at the subcellular and intracellular levels. They’re packing electrodes into the chip, collecting millions of measurements, and giving it an accessible visual readout, all in one device,” said Chris Petty, Director of Business Development in Harvard Office of Technology Development. “It’s been exciting for us in OTD to work with Jeffrey, Vince, and Duane to validate the market opportunity through extensive customer discovery, and we’re delighted to see CytoTronics launch with robust seed funding and a strong founding team to take the technology forward.”

CytoTronics recently opened office space in the Agility Labs life sciences facility in Boston, MA, which is equipped with private dedicated biosafety level 2 wet biology labs and dry electronics labs, to continue research and further develop its platform.

Tags: startups, donhee ham, hongkun park, electrical engineering

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