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6 December 2017

Three SMEs and UT develop an extremely sensitive protein and virus detection platform

The SME companies Lead Pharma, LioniX and Surfix and the University of Twente have jointly developed a biological detection platform, BioMEANDER, that is up to a hundred times more sensitive than existing techniques. Amongst other applications, the partners plan to deploy the platform to screen candidate drugs and to develop an extremely selective virus detector.

The EFRO programme OP Oost awarded the partners an R&D collaboration subsidy of €800,000 for the BioMEANDER project, and the partners will also have invested a total of €1.2 million in het project by the end of 2019.

The availability of extremely sensitive, rapid and selective detection methods allows for the development of screening tests for early diagnostics and so-called ‘personalised medicine’, in which patients are offered individual, custom-made treatments. Besides developing new technologies, BioMEANDER also focuses on identifying commercial opportunities for the detection platform being developed. 

Sensor design 

“The platform is based on optical sensor chips, which work with light rather than electricity,” explains Henk Leeuwis, head of Strategy and Innovation at LioniX. “If a virus, for instance, becomes attached to a chip, this alters the amount of light the chip emits. By optimizing the sensor design we have made our platform ten to a hundred times as sensitive as other optical sensors.” 

To selectively detect a desired molecule or virus, specific receptors need to be added to the chip. “Usually the whole sensor is covered with receptors, but at Surfix we worked out a way to place the receptors only on the sensitive part of the sensor, raising its sensitivity still further,” adds Luc Scheres, CEO at Surfix. 

Besides these general improvements to the detection platform, the project partners are researching two concrete applications. Jan Klomp, senior scientist at Lead Pharma: “We’re looking into how this platform could help to screen new candidate medicines. We want to know whether an agent binds to certain proteins, and for us it’s important to know whether large amounts of this agent are required or whether small amounts also bind effectively. To find this out we need a very sensitive measuring method. So we have high hopes of this detection platform, and we think that – in combination with the right binding experiments – it could raise the efficiency of the drug candidate screening and selection process.” 

Virus detection

The University of Twente is working on a second application for this platform, namely virus detection. Professor Jurriaan Huskens: “Together with my colleague Jeroen Cornelissen I’m researching how viruses bind to surfaces. Because viruses can attach themselves to a surface with more than one anchor point at the same time, they are extremely sensitive to the number of receptors present on that surface. Use can be made of this fact by building an extremely selective virus detector. With such a detector you can quickly determine which type of virus is infecting someone, or you can use it to test antiviral drugs.” 

BioMEANDER has been awarded a grant by the Operationaal Programma (OP) Oost, a subsidy programme within the European Fund for Regional Development (EFRO). The aim of OP Oost is to support companies in Overijssel and Gelderland in developing and marketing new products, and thereby strengthen the competitive position of the eastern Netherlands as a prominent, innovative European region.

Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention