Akadeum Life Sciences, a cell-sorting startup based in Ann Arbor, MI, has raised nearly $1.5 million in new capital from a mix of Midwestern and Silicon Valley investors.
The round was led by Belmont, CA’s BioInfleXion Point Partners, with contributions from 5 Prime Ventures, the University of Michigan’s MINTS program, Invest Detroit, eLab Ventures, and local angel investors. The company has raised a total of just over $3 million since its inception three years ago.
Akadeum CEO Brandon McNaughton calls the new investment a significant milestone, as it further validates the company’s microbubble technology. (In a press release, BioInfleXion’s managing partner, Brock Siegel, described it as “disruptive.”)
During the research process, cells often require separation from their surroundings—T-cells from blood, for example—before they can be studied. McNaughton says current cell separation methods can be time-consuming, costly, and damaging to cells.
To address these issues, Akadeum has developed a product that incorporates buoyancy-activated cell sorting. Microbubbles, which are tiny spheres made out of silica that are one-tenth the width of human hair, are added to biological samples, where they attach to target cells. After a few minutes, the microbubbles float the target cells to the top of the sample, allowing a researcher to collect and remove them.
“Nobody has done what we’ve done: produce microbubbles to effectively capture and remove cells,” McNaughton says. “We’re so excited to have seasoned, Silicon Valley life science investors and a great group of advisors.”
The five-person company got its start in a lab at TechTown Detroit, but is now on the hunt for a new office in Ann Arbor. According to McNaughton, Akadeum plans to spend some of its money on new hires while also exploring new markets.
The company follows the lean startup model, which emphasizes identifying potential customers and incorporating their feedback into product development. It’s an unusual approach in a typically capital-intensive biotech sector. To help generate feedback, Akadeum runs an evaluation program allowing researchers to apply to receive a sample of microbubbles to test out, complete with technical support. It also sells various microbubble kits on its website.
“We believe in being engaged in the market,” he adds. “We’ve been selling our product in more of an evaluative process with key opinion leaders.”
In the coming year, Akadeum plans to release new cell separation products, but McNaughton declined to share specifics. “We’ve got the research done,” he says. “We’re working on product development now and hope to launch soon.”
For now, McNaughton is optimistic about the company’s future. As innovations such as genomics or CAR-T therapy move to the forefront, the market for microbubbles is increasing, he says, and because Akadeum’s kits are for use in research only, it doesn’t have a lot of regulatory hoops to jump through.
The Akadeum team plans to remain in Michigan for the foreseeable future, McNaughton says. “We’ve lived here for a decade or more, so we’re really happy to contribute to the [startup] ecosystem.”