Nanosys: Matrix-Free MALDI

Nanotechnology has been a familiar buzzword for a number of years, but the field itself has yet to meet its impressive potential. While there is no shortage of companies involved in nanotechnology, Nanosys, based in Palo Alto, California, has attracted considerable attention since its founding in 2001. In March, Nanosys partnered with Bruker Daltonics for the manufacture of matrix-free target plates, to be used mainly with Bruker’s FLEX laser desorption ionization (LDI) time-of-flight (TOF) mass spectrometers (see IBO 4/30/07).

Nanosys was founded in 2001 by a number of scientists, including Charles Lieber, Hongkun Park and Paul Alivisatos, and biotech entrepreneur Larry Bock (who also cofounded Illumina and Caliper Technologies). As of 2006, Nanosys had amassed total funding of $102 million through private funding rounds and contracts. Peter Garcia, chief financial officer of Nanosys, admitted that the company does not yet have “significant product revenue,” but pointed out that its general revenue, which “is comprised of corporate collaboration revenue, has a combined average growth rate of 110% over the past five years.” The company manufactures inorganic structures in a variety of configurations, typically smaller than 100 nanometers in size. Nanosys does not bring products to market itself; rather, it collaborates with larger manufacturers. The firm has more than 450 nanotechnology patents. Its investors and partners include In-Q-Tel (the CIA’s private venture capital firm), Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Sharp, Intel and DuPont. The company received an $8.2 million government subcontract from SAIC in October 2004. In April 2006, the company received a total of $4.6 million in grants from the government for nanotechnology-enabled equipment, including thin-film electronics, solid-state lighting and communications.

The matrix-free plates for the Bruker partnership, called Capture and Analyze (CA) NALDI (nano-assisted LDI) chips, will be manufactured by Nanosys and marketed and distributed by Bruker. These chips allow researchers to study small molecules with MALDI-TOF. MALDI-TOF is typically not performed on small molecules, because of the matrix that protects the larger biomolecules commonly studied with the technique. This matrix, which contains small molecules in the same molecular mass range as small molecule analytes, makes it difficult to accurately determine mass spectra. The CA NALDI chips are covered in a multilayered, nanowire coating that absorbs heat and allows the analyte, spotted on the chip without a matrix, to vaporize and generate ions, which are then analyzed in the mass spectrometer.

Nanosys recognized a need for the NALDI chips in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly for studying the absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion and toxicity (ADME/Tox) of drugs and lead compounds. As Mr. Garcia explained, “Current approaches to early ADME/Tox screening of compound libraries are either impractical or cost-prohibitive. With an increasing number of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies adopting a ‘fail early, fail cheaply’ approach, the introduction of Nanosys’s chemical analysis chip can assist in reducing attrition rates during early-stage preclinical development.” The NALDI chips will be launched later in the year. Clearly, nanotechnology is still in its infancy, but Nanosys has already had precocious success, and appears to be ready for more growth.

< | >