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20 April, 2021 - 23:29 By Tony Quested

Bolt from the light blue as HexagonFab strikes it rich in medical sensing

Cambridge-based HexagonFab is targeting global success after raising £1.9 million to accelerate development of novel technology for process monitoring in the biopharmaceutical industry. 

The company has developed a portable and affordable instrument – HexagonFab Bolt – which can very rapidly generate biopharma data.

The £1.9m seed round has been led by Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University, together with Parkwalk Advisors and several private investors. This is in addition to £500k in grants and awards.

The founders tell Business Weekly that the company, built around Cambridge University IP, is likely to raise an unspecified Series A in mid-2022.

Co-founder and director Christoph von Bieberstein says: “There is huge potential for this technology globally but we are narrowly focusing on where the real value of the business lies.

“Regarding the technology, we are currently at ‘prototype’ stage and have already engaged potential customers that are testing our tools in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and the US.

“Looking ahead the territories with the highest potential for us are the UK, US, European biotechnology hubs such as Germany, France and Switzerland, and China.”

Most existing technologies for protein analysis rely on measuring changes of optical properties.

This can be a change in the refractive index in the case of SPR or a shift in the interference pattern for BLI. 

Optical measurements are extremely accurate, but this accuracy comes at the cost of complex optical components. These are not only very costly, but prone to failure and without any potential for miniaturisation.

‍HexagonFab’s goal is to democratise protein characterisation, by making it  significantly more affordable, easier to use and faster than ever before. 
Driven by advances in nanotechnology, microelectronics and advanced algorithms, the business has developed an entirely different approach.

It uses electrical detection only – eschewing optical components. The microchip at the heart of the sensor is capable of analysing proteins and their interactions in a simple and affordable plug & play tool that fits into the palm of your hand.

The sensor, a stamp sized microchip, detects the electrical charge of biomolecules. Binding events are directly translated into a digital signal. 

HexagonFab is building on the technology driving field effect transistors (FET) – the technology that has enabled the computational revolution of the 20th century –and combined it with the most recent advances in nanotechnology to create the bio-FET. 

The bio-FET is driven by a single atomic layer of a carbon crystal – graphene. Changes in the electrical charges in its environment affect the electrical properties of the graphene layer. 

In this way, HexagonFab is able to detect minute electrical charge changes allowing the detection of biomolecule binding with high precision.

Building on years of research at the University of Cambridge, the company has developed the methods to produce and manipulate these atomically thin crystals with the required precision.

Combining this with a method for stable and fast surface functionalisation, it has been able to develop the HexagonFab Bolt.

The company is hiring in Cambridge in areas ranging from marketing & sales to technical product management, application specialism, R & D – notably a biosensor lead scientist, other biosensor scientists, hardware engineers and electromechanical engineers. 

An internship is also being offered on a fixed term.

Investors are excited by the opportunities for the business. Alastair Kilgour of Parkwalk Advisors said: “We are delighted that the University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund VII supported this funding round.

“HexagonFab’s novel ‘Bolt’ system will help expand protein characterisation by offering easier to use and more affordable products compared to the incumbent optical-based systems.”

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