IROA Forms Florida Partnership, Pushes Metabolomics Forward

Metabolomics, which is the study of the unique chemical imprints that specific cellular processes leave behind, in is an up-and-coming field in biotech, says Felice de Jong, co-founder and CEO of IROA Technologies. Sure, she argues, genomics can tell patients what may happen—what they’re predisposed to—but an accurate measurement of the body’s metabolites can tell doctors what’s wrong in a patient’s body in real time.

“Our body heavily regulates metabolites, and if they’re out of whack, something’s wrong,” de Jong explains.

What IROA Technologies hopes to do is make it easy to measure metabolites in an organism by taking a tissue sample and injecting cell culture media into the sample, which labels all the biochemical compounds in the cell. Those labels are then detected by IROA Technologies software, which determines which of the labels are metabolites. The process filters out what de Jong calls “junk, noise, and artifacts.” She says IROA’s technology is designed to get through the bottlenecks in metabolomics.

“By giving researchers tools to measure metabolites accurately, they’ll be able to discover better diagnostics,” de Jong says. “It’s very valuable for drug development. It really opens your eyes to see biochemically what’s happening in an organism.”

IROA Technologies announced last month that it has partnered with the University of Florida to establish the Southeast Center for Integrated Metabolomics (SECIM), which was awarded a 5-year, $9 million grant on Sep. 18 from the National Institutes of Health. The SECIM said it will use the funding to “provide integrated metabolomics service to provide high-quality data, user-friendly statistical analysis tools, training, and pilot funding to help users get the most out of a metabolomics study, whether it is a basic science metabolomics study or for clinical purposes.”

Back in 2004, de Jong says that she felt like one of the loudest voices preaching the value of metabolomics. Now, she says, the field is finally starting to explode. “We feel as if we have the best technology out there,” she adds. “We’re about to release these tools in the next four to six weeks just for measuring metabolites in yeast and bacteria—those are important models for organisms.”

The Ann Arbor-based IROA Technologies was founded in 2010 and formerly called NextGen Metabolomics. Co-founder Chris Beecher patented the company’s technology. As of now, the company is just Beecher and de Jong, with a lot of the research work outsourced to contractors.

IROA Technologies closed a Series A funding round in April, with O2 Investment Partners, Ann Arbor SPARK, and Invest Detroit participating. De Jong sees a huge potential for her company’s technology in the future. “The NIH realizes the importance of metabolomics,” she says. “Even places like LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics are doing a lot more [metabolomics] testing these days.”

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