Fluorescent nanodiamond marker: A leap forward in cellular medicine development

Sandy Du, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0

The completion of the human genome sequencing project has opened up new opportunities for drug development. Some diseases that were once difficult to cure can now be treated with targeted drugs. However, targeted drugs are only suitable for patients with specific genes. Furthermore, there are still no suitable drug treatment options available for patients with cancer or other special diseases. This has made cellular medicine a popular global research focus. Despite the fact that many companies are investing in cellular drug development and that cell drug clinical trial designs are largely identical to traditional clinical drugs, the lack of accurate and rapid pre-clinical cellular pharmacokinetic validation had made it impossible to confirm the safety, efficacy, and traceability of developed cell drugs, thus greatly slowing down the development of this new generation of therapeutic methods.

Currently, the development of cell drugs mainly relies on fluorescent markers to track cell flow and efficacy. However, this technology has many problems, including a short fluorescent marking effect, limiting the possibility of extended tracking, background fluorescence interference with accurate localization as well as toxicity of the fluorescent markers, which damages the cells. Because of this, research projects can become highly time consuming and costly. The innovative cell therapy development and validation platform launched by Taiwan-based startup - LuminX Biotech provides a suite of functions after cellular drug injection consisting of in vivo cell GPS localization, in vivo cell biodistribution analysis, imaging and quantitative analysis, and qualitative analysis of the binding polymerase chain reaction. It also provides a cellular drug kinetic and pharmacological analysis platform to address the current lack of pre-clinical cellular pharmacokinetic evaluation in cellular medicine development. This innovative technology has also been presented at the Taiwan Healthcare+ Expo in late 2021 through a partnership with E-DA Hospital.

LuminX CEO Harry Su pointed out that the technology behind the "LuminX Cell Therapy Enabling Platform," which provides cellular therapy pre-clinical development and validation support is based on the nanodiamond marker technology developed by the Academia Sinica in collaboration with National Taiwan University, which was acquired by the company through technology transfer. The company's nanodiamond fluorescent marker can go on for much longer periods of time without any effect on the cells, and works in combination with a backend tracking system to accurately achieve localization and quantification. This technology can help cellular medicine products reach clinical trials by making cell tracking both possible and comprehensively quantifiable.

The company's unique LuminX fluorescent nanodiamond marker has won many awards such as the 17th National Innovation Award in its very first year of operation, the 18th National New Innovation Award in the following year, the 2021 NBRP Demo Day Biomedical New Innovation Award Achievement Exhibition-Industry Pioneer Gold Award, and the 2021 COMPUTEX d&I awards. For two consecutive years, LuminX has also been awarded with the Ministry of Science and Technology's 2020 and 2021 BIO Asia-Taiwan New Innovation Team Participation Grant. This has given the LuminX team the opportunity to participate in startup presentation competitions as well as the chance to collaborate with professionals from around the world.

Success in international markets - Japan, China, Vietnam

Currently, LuminX is working with over ten academic research institutes, six medical institutes, and five cell therapy companies as it continues to focus on clinical trials. Take wound healing assay as an example; using traditional fluorescence-based imaging technology would mean that projects could take at least two years to complete. Now, by using LuminX's innovative LuminX Cell Therapy Enabling Platform, it only takes two weeks to get results by tracking the flow of cell drugs, which could save at least 50% in costs and 80% in manpower. Besides the platform, the company also provides customized services for molecular biology testing, morphology, cell biology, and experimental animal model testing commissioned to help make cell therapy treatment safer and better.

Harry said that he received a lot of support from the government when he first started the company, namely the encouragement from winning the National Innovation Awards, the funding from Taipei City Government's startup program, residency at TTA in Taipei Arena, accelerator program from IAPS, and the chance to debut its product on the HVC Kyoto 2021. It was during this event that he was interviewed by the Japanese media, which greatly increased the company's visibility. Currently, LuminX has signed MOUs with companies in Japan and China and is actively working with Kyoto University in Japan and the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology to prepare for its entry into the international market.

In the future, the company will focus on two business models: reagent sales and custom pre-clinical validation services to tap into the trend of global cellular medicine development. LuminX will continue to expand the international market by working with major academic research institutes around the world, while seeking opportunities to collaborate with major clinical trial service providers, contract research organizations, and cell medicine-related companies.

Middle: LuminX CEO Dr. Harry Su

LuminX CEO Harry Su (center)
Photo: LuminX Biotech

(Editor's note: The original article was published in TTA Magazine Issue 9. Read more startup stories in TTA Magazines.)