• Investment round to push Fluorescent Dyes to Market
    University of Birmingham (Credit: University of Birmingham)
  • Professor Alex Robinson

News & Views

Investment round to push Fluorescent Dyes to Market

Dec 30 2022

A second round equity investment of £487k towards the end of 2022, is enabling University of Birmingham spin-out ChromaTwist Ltd to continue development of its new class of fluorescent dyes destined for the flow cytometry reagent market, which with its current growth rate has been estimated to reach a value of $2.9Bn by 2027. The funding will help facilitation of industry partnerships to advance development of products which could potentially reach the marketplace as soon as 2023, said the company. 

Used by hospital laboratories, the pharmaceutical industry and university research departments for medical research, vaccine and drug development and disease diagnosis, flow cytometry uses dyes to detect or measure the characteristics of cells or particles.  

The dyes, said to show exceptional versatility with a large range of ‘signalling colours’ with potential for conducting simultaneous tests on a single sample, were discovered by the research groups led by Professor Jon Preece from the University’s  School of Chemistry and Professor Alex Robinson from the School of Chemical Engineering, during a programme of research into photo-conducting liquid crystals. With a unique chemistry allowing tuneable fluorescence, small adjustments made to the molecular structure of these materials would alter the colour of the light they emit, from blue through to red and potentially into the infra-red.  The technology is protected by patents owned by the company.

The funding builds on initial grant funding of £347k from Innovate UK, £90k funding from the Directors in 2019, and a first equity funding round of £430k from directors, Angel investors and the University of Birmingham in 2021. 

Professor Jon Preece commented: “Following a year of rapid product development and customer engagement, we have now moved to our own dedicated laboratory and will be expanding our team of scientists so we can expedite our dye development for flow cytometry.  We expect the resulting dyes to be fully compatible with existing flow cytometry processes and equipment and are looking forward to the next 12 months working with industry partners.”

Founders Preece and Robinson have already worked together on existing spinout, Irresistible Materials Ltd, which develops organic materials for new lithographic processes including e-beam and EUV lithography. ChromaTwist’s management team will including Chairman, Mark Shepherd (also CEO Irresistible Materials Ltd), with extensive knowledge in licensing and spin out companies and Darren Wake, who has three decades of executive level experience including M&A.

The company has already received commercial accolades nominated as ‘one to watch’ in The Spinoff Prize 2020, organised by Nature Research and Merck KGaA, as well as being Royal Society of Chemistry Emerging Technologies finalists in 2019.

It is also evaluating longer-term opportunities in other sectors, including security inks and applications in organic electronics. Having already sold 18 of its dyes to Sigma-Aldrich, part of the Life Science business sector of Merck, it is open to initial discussion with other businesses about potential partnerships and collaborations in these areas.

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