Fluorotronics Sees a Spike in Business Opportunities for Use of Carbon-Fluorine Bond

Olga Sharts has worked as a Russian-English translator, but the Russian immigrant who came to San Diego in the 1990s can be difficult to understand when she’s excited. And when I met with her, she was very, very excited.

Sharts is the founding CEO of Fluorotronics, an 11-year-old startup based in Vista, CA, launched to commercialize technology that Sharts helped develop with her late husband Clay M. Sharts, a chemistry professor at San Diego State University.

Using a specialized type of laser spectroscopy, Sharts says, “Our core technology is based on the detection of carbon-fluorine bonds. It is used for detection, measurement, and imaging in nanotechnology, pharmaceutical, and life sciences.”

Before he died in 1999, Clay Sharts was working with San Diego’s Alliance Pharmaceuticals to develop a perfluorocarbon blood substitute, and was using radioactive tags to study how organs processed blood. A researcher who specialized in organofluorine compounds, he wanted to reduce the use of radioactive tags, and viewed fluorine-tagged molecules as a potential replacement. He worked with Olga, who was a chemistry graduate student at SDSU, and the Russian physicist Vladimir Gorelik to develop spectroscopic techniques that could identify the unique spectral signature of carbon-fluorine bonds. Fluorotronics licensed the technology from the San Diego State University Foundation.

Olga Sharts

A commercial method for detecting carbon-fluorine bonds is useful, Olga Sharts explained, because carbon-fluorine bonds don’t exist in nature. Such bonds are entirely man-made, and she sees a potential multi-billion dollar market for technology that is inexpensive, versatile, and accurate.

Carbon-fluorine bonds are used to make Teflon and other advanced materials, including microelectronics, semiconductors, chemicals, and aerospace materials. Pharmaceutical manufacturers use organofluorine compounds in their recipes for Prozac, Lipitor, and other prescription drugs. And scientists in the life sciences often use fluorine tags extensively to label biological molecules—including DNA, RNA proteins, antisense molecules, antibodies, and pathogens. Among other things, Sharts says the unique optical signature of carbon-fluorine bonds offers a promising new technique for tagging and detecting cancer cells.

She sees more practical, and immediate, uses in the pharmaceuticals industry, where fluorine-labeled molecules make the technology ideally suited for use in both drug discovery and in identifying drugs that are slightly mis-formulated or outright counterfeits.

“We’re often asked by … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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