New investments advance aptamer research
AuramerBio, a start-up company spun out of Victoria University of Wellington, has celebrated its second birthday with a string of commercialisation successes.
Launched in September 2015, AuramerBio designs and develops aptamers—single-stranded synthetic DNA that can bind to specific target molecules. Aptamers can be used to detect small molecules in a range of medical and environmental contexts in real-time.
The company recently raised $360,000 (exceeding its $300,000 target), securing a number of new shareholders in the process—including the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR).
ESR first became interested in aptamer technology when working with Victoria University on methods for methamphetamine detection in saliva for potential use in roadside testing.
“We are really pleased to be supporting a New Zealand biotech start-up with locally developed science that can be applied to a broad range of work undertaken by our business,” says ESR’s General Manager of Forensic John Bone.
ESR is a great partner for the company, says AuramerBio chief executive Jeremy Jones. “Having ESR sign on as a shareholder is a huge confirmation and validation of what we’re doing.”
ESR joins Powerhouse Ventures and Viclink (Victoria’s commercialisation office) as AuramerBio’s key shareholders.
The rapid and sensitive detection of small molecules is becoming increasingly important, says Mr Jones.
“Aptamers show great promise in replacing expensive, elaborate detection platforms, making them highly suitable, in combination with lightweight technology, to provide solutions across a range of markets.
“Our first two years were focused on providing research services to develop the aptamers with groups around the world. Our next step is product development—building a prototype and testing it on real samples in the field.”
AuramerBio was spawned from a cross-disciplinary collaboration between researchers in Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences and School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, and the University of Auckland’s School of Chemical Sciences.
“It’s a very exciting time for us,” says Shalen Kumar, co-founder of AuramerBio and the company’s chief technical officer. “Our strength is in our science—we’ve done the work in the lab and now we’re passionate about getting the product out there and starting to make a difference.”
Last year Dr Kumar was granted $300,000 through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Catalyst Fund to progress a suite of sensory tools to detect contaminants in waterways.
Also last year, Dr Kumar’s AuramerBio colleague Associate Professor Justin Hodgkiss was awarded $1 million from MBIE for his research project into developing devices to make methamphetamine testing for homes and motorists more efficient.
Vice-Provost (Research) Professor Kate McGrath says AuramerBio’s progress demonstrates the University’s entrepreneurial focus.
“As a global-civic university, and with its excellence in research, Victoria has a great opportunity to take a prominent role in supporting and growing innovation.”