There have been two recent votes of confidence for Ann Arbor-based Akadeum Life Sciences Inc., a 2014 spinoff from the University of Michigan.
In October, it finished raising a seed round of $1 million, which will fund product development and beef up sales and marketing.
Normally that would be the big news.
But that was overshadowed by a late September announcement that co-founder John Younger would quit his day job to devote all his time and efforts to Akadeum.
The company has a very specific niche in the lab testing world; it uses what it calls buoyancy activated cell sorting, trademarked as BAGS, to make it easier, cheaper and faster to prepare tissue, water or food samples for testing
Younger was a well-funded researcher at UM whose announcement took many by surprise. He said he even got a call from Science magazine asking if it was true.
Younger, a physician who has a master’s degree in statistical analysis, was a professor and associate chairman for research in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the medical school. There, he ran his own lab, which was focused on sepsis and bloodstream infections.
He was also on the executive committee of the Biointerfaces Institute, a multidisciplinary program between the School of Medicine and Dentistry and the colleges of pharmacy and engineering at UM.
Younger also sits on the surgery, anesthesia and trauma study section at the National Institutes of Health‘s Center for Scientific Review.
He said he turned more than $1 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and the NIH over to colleagues in the lab.
Younger and Brandon McNaughton founded the company in March 2014. McNaughton is a local tech veteran who has been an entrepreneur-in-residence with Invest Detroit‘s Detroit Innovate Fund, a lecturer at the Center for Entrepreneurship at UM and a consultant for startup companies in UM’s Office of Technology Transfer.
Younger is chief scientific officer, and McNaughton is CEO.
Michigan eLab LLC, a venture capital firm founded in Ann Arbor by three veterans of Silicon Valley, led the seed round with $150,000.
Joining was the Detroit Innovate Fund, Invest Michigan, UM’s MINTS program and Jeffrey Schox, the company’s Silicon Valley-based patent attorney.
MINTS — an acronym for Michigan Investment in New Technology Startups — was created in 2011 to allow direct investment by UM in its spinoff companies.
In September, the school’s board of regents approved up to $2.5 million in equity investments in Akadeum through what could be several rounds of financing.
Akadeum has begun putting the seed round to use, hiring a director of sales, Brian Kierce, and a principal research scientist, Leo Ostruszka, who was a research scientist at Accuri Cytometers Inc., a medical device company in Ann Arbor sold to New Jersey-based Becton, Dickinson and Co. in 2011.
Akadeum now employs four at its headquarters and lab south of Ann Arbor.
Akadeum was unusual for a biotech startup when it got its first commitment for funding of its seed round from Michigan eLab last January. At the time, it had eight paying customers, a total that McNaughton said has more than doubled.
Akadeum’s patented technology involves tiny glass beads, which the company calls microbubbles. They are coated with antibodies to quickly gather and concentrate such antigens as toxins, bacteria or viruses.
The microbubbles are about 15-18 microns in diameter. There are 25,400 microns in an inch.
While traditionally it can take two or three days to grow enough target cells in a culture to make an identification, Akadeum’s technology can reduce that time significantly.
The company is about to start marketing the next generation.
In the first iteration, customers had to attach their own antibodies. The microbubbles would then be dispersed through the sample. Because they were buoyant, they would rise to the surface as antibodies grabbed onto target antigens, making it easier to gather them up and concentrate them for analysis.
Now, Akadeum will offer a suite of microbubbles already attached to any of a suite of 10 common antibodies. It will also do custom microbubbles for customers working with other antigens.
McNaughton said the plan is to achieve some internal milestones, including ramping up sales, before going out to raise a substantially larger Series A funding round.
Melanie Tomczak is director of the biological and nanoscale technologies division at Dayton, Ohio-based UES Inc., which does projects for the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“We’re building a water-quality sensor that will be looking for pathogens like e-coli, and their products take large equipment and multiple stages out of the process,” she said. “We’re really excited to work with them.”
William Hyun, director of the Laboratory for Advanced Cytometry at the University of California, San Francisco, a new customer, said, “Cell isolation technologies are becoming more and more important. Everyone is looking for easy, simple, low cost, and this promises to take care of all three. As far as early-stage technologies go, this is as promising as I’ve seen.”
He said the company’s microbubbles promise to be far superior to magnetic beads, an established technology with many limitations, and far cheaper than cell-sorting cytometers, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Akadeum gets $1 million seed; co-founder joins full time – Crain’s Detroit Business.