Ohio State spinout receives investments to commercialize biosensor technology

Posted: June 30, 2014

ProteoSense LLC, a Columbus-based spinout of The Ohio State University, is the most recent recipient of an investment from the $1 million Technology Concept Fund LLC and a $100,000 Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-up Fund grant. Managed by TechColumbus, the Technology Concept Fund includes capital committed by The Ohio State University and Ohio Third Frontier. 

ProteoSense is developing a unique sensor technology invented by Ohio State College of Engineering and College of Medicine researchers to detect proteins that are fundamental markers of pathogens. The firm is focusing initially on detecting serious threats to food safety in fresh produce, such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria. 

Using ProteoSense’s handheld testing system, the RapidScanTM, customers can test produce for pathogens before it ships to retailers and receive rapid and precise results rather than having to send samples to a lab and wait three or four days for similar results. 

Under the Food Safety Modernization Act, which Congress passed in 2010 in response to significant disease outbreaks traceable to contaminated food, especially fresh produce, requirements for insuring food safety are becoming much more rigorous. ProteoSense is tackling a growing problem with technology that delivers health benefits to consumers and cost advantages for food producers and distributors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is finalizing rules and regulations for the fresh produce sector, which will require growers, processors, shippers and wholesalers to demonstrate they can prevent food contamination and monitor the safety of their products. This new mandate will create an entirely new market segment that ProteoSense’s technology is well-positioned to serve.

ProteoSense CEO Mark Byrne
ProteoSense President and CEO Mark Byrne
“RapidScanTM provides speed, accuracy and ease of use,” said ProteoSense President and CEO Mark Byrne. “Customers will purchase a meter and sensor cartridges for the bacteria they want to detect. The meter resembles a smart phone and has a plug-in single use sensor.

“Customers turn it on, apply a liquid sample and results are ready in minutes with high accuracy. It’s designed to be easy to use, cost effective and highly reliable.” 

Byrne first learned of the technology at an Ohio State Technology Commercialization Office event in the fall of 2012. He views the technology licensed from Ohio State as a multi-market platform. “The sensor technology can be readily adapted to three important market verticals: food safety, medical diagnostics and environmental monitoring.”

Those three markets happen to align perfectly with The Ohio State University Discovery Themes, a ten-year, multi-million dollar investment designed to make Ohio State a leader in critical research on enormous global problems that pose great challenges: food production and security; health and wellness; and energy and environment.

According to Ohio State Electrical Engineering and Physics Professor and co-inventor Len Brillson, one particular application in the healthcare industry served as the technology’s impetus.

“Our original motivation was to make an immuno-FET sensor,” said Brillson, “a device that you could insert into the body of an organ transplant recipient to detect protein markers for transplant rejection.”

But once they had made sensors that could detect a specific target protein with high sensitivity, even in the presence of other proteins, Brillson and partners realized the technology could be advantageous in a much broader array of applications. 

In addition to Professor Brillson, inventors include Professor Stephen Lee, Professor Wu Lu, Professor Paul Berger, Professor Gregg Hadley, Dr. Ronald Pelletier, the late Professor Charles Orosz, Patrick Adams and Andrew Theiss. Brillson, Lee, Hadley, and Lu are an active part of the ProteoSense team.

“This is truly an interdisciplinary project,” said Biomedical Engineering Professor Stephen Lee. “A marriage of solid-state electronics and molecular biology.”

According to Byrne, the recent funding will allow the company to produce the next generation of prototypes and demonstrate the technology in both food safety and medical applications, obtaining the critical proof needed to raise additional capital. The company also is regularly submitting proposals for federal Small Business Innovation Research funds.

“The Technology Concept Fund and the Third Frontier grant provide critical early stage capital to startups like us,” said Byrne, an Ohio State engineering alum and experienced entrepreneur who has led startups for thirteen years. For the past two years, he has been a key volunteer member of the Ohio State College of Medicine technology review board, where he scouted for a technology licensing opportunity on which to build a startup company. 

He added, “We are fortunate to be building our company in Columbus where state resources, investment from the university, and commercialization services from TechColumbus all come together to help entrepreneurs accelerate their companies growth and success.”

“Initially we will rent space in TechColumbus, and long-term we see this as a company that can grow and put down a foothold down in Ohio and sell products worldwide.”