Take a quick browse through Seattle’s biotech scene, and you’ll notice a pattern.
Immunotherapy — using the body’s immune system to fight cancer — is the hottest topic in biotechnology nowadays, and it is dominating Seattle’s biotech scene, from research giants like Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to startups like Alpine Immune Sciences.
But it is a complex process that requires the handling thousands of cells and molecules, which can be difficult, time consuming, and costly.
Enter Nexgenia, a startup whose reagents can sort samples by fishing out certain cells and molecules, a valuable ability in the process of creating immunotherapies.
Helmed by CEO Ron Myers, Nexgenia has been employing their tech in immunotherapy production for the past two years, but Myers says the company will soon expand to new applications.
Myers, previously VP of strategic transaction at Leroy Hood’s Institute of Systems Biology, joined Nexgenia as CEO in 2014 and has overseen a period of growth at the company, including partnerships with institutions like Seattle Children’s Jensen lab.
“We’ve learned a lot about our technology in the last two years,” Myers said. “There’s a whole host of applications we could take these reagents into, and we’re still digging down into what will be the best applications to pursue first.”
Nexgenia uses polymers, long chains of organic molecules, that are programmed to respond to stimuli like temperature, salinity, or acidity. “So basically polymers will be in a solution at 25 degrees but if I increase the temperature to 27 degrees they will come out of solution,” Myers said.
Using antibodies, scientists can make polymers latch on to certain cells or molecules, and by adding metallic compounds, they can also draw the polymers and cells together to extract them from a solution. Watch the tech in action here:
Not many companies are able to produce reagents that are so effective, Myers said, particularly because detaching the cells is important step in immunotherapy.
The reagents are currently being used to separate, expand, and activate cells during the immunotherapy process, but could also be used in areas like molecule and protein separation, or even diagnostics, Myers said.
“Basically, if you have something you want to remove from a a sample or out of solution we can do that for you under virtually any condition,” he said.
Nexgenia was spun out of the University of Washington’s Pat Stayton Lab in 2011 and Stayton, one of the original founders, still works as a consultant with the company. The startup employs eight, and is based on the UW’s campus.