Yale bioscience tools company IsoPlexis recently closed on a $1.25 million Series A round with investments from Spring Mountain Capital, Connecticut Innovations and others. The startup is developing a single cell immunoassay device and software that provides in-depth understanding of immune and cancer cell activity. It was formed through the Technology Commercialization Program (TCP) which connects professional and graduate school students at Yale with patented faculty inventions at the cutting edge of science and technology. The TCP is jointly run by the Yale Office of Cooperative Research and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. IsoPlexis also participated in the 2013 YEI Fellowship and received a $100,000 investment from the YEI Innovation Fund.
“We’re very excited by our progress and have hired a team of talented bioscience, programming and engineering professionals from Yale and the Connecticut area,” says IsoPlexis founder and CEO Sean Mackay (SOM ’14). “YEI has provided mentors throughout the process that are still working with us in a close capacity. The ability to work with leaders in healthcare from the Yale community, including founders of biotech companies and CEOs of sequencing companies, has given us a great advantage.”
IsoPlexis utilizes Yale-patented technology developed by Rong Fan, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Yale. Their micro-device can isolate single immune cells within a population and analyze those cells’ secreted proteins over time. This helps researchers to better understand how cancer and other diseases progress and how drug candidates interact with the human immune system.
Kathryn Miller-Jensen, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering & Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology, worked with Fan on an National Institutes of Health grant to push the device from a 12-plex to a 45-plex system. She now regularly uses the IsoPlexis device to track cell communication. “Before this device, we would take a whole plate of cells and get one data point,” Miller-Jensen says. “Now we separate the plate into 1,000 cells and get a data point from each cell.”
Miller-Jensen is particularly interested in studying inflammatory response in cells. When there is an intruder, or pathogen, immune cells will secrete a protein that alerts the other cells. What she’s discovered by using the IsoPlexis device is that there is a small sub-population of cells that act as “first responders,” while the other cells serve to amplify that response in a highly coordinated communication network. In the future, a better understanding of this inflammatory response could be harnessed to treat cancer or improve vaccine response. “This helps us to target drugs to different parts of the immune response,” Miller-Jensen says.
The data produced by Miller-Jensen and other researchers at Yale in turn provides IsoPlexis with further proof of concept for their device. “These are key early adopters,” Mackay says. IsoPlexis has recently established a lab space in Branford, Connecticut where they have six full-time employees.