Xona Microfluidics Ramps Up With New Products and Staff
Xona Microfluidics, a unique cell-culture systems company with an R&D lab in Durham, is ramping up operations with two new products used by neuroscientists to study diseases such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.
The Temecula, California-based company, which the North Carolina Biotechnology Center profiled in 2017, has made considerable progress. It has sold more than 100,000 of its microfluidic devices and chips in its first decade of existence. And it recently added two new products to its original “artificial brain on a chip” made from silicone. Xona introduced the new XonaChip made from cyclic olefin copolymer (COC) in 2018 and sales revenues have almost doubled since then.
Neurons are placed in the chips. They grow and shoot out axons, the appendage that transmits signals away from the neurons to communicate with other neurons. The chips have patented microfluidic channels that are connected via microgrooves just large enough to fit axons. The microgrooves help neuroscientists isolate axons for study, and create neuronal circuits with different neuronal populations. Xona is a rearrangement of the word “axion”.
The new chips are easier to use, and solve a problem the company faced with its original silicone chip devices. Those required hand-intensive labor to make, and were subject to high scrap rates. The COC chips are injection moldable, which means they are more uniform and can be mass manufactured.
The company said demand nonetheless continues for the silicone devices, although an “increasing significant fraction” of customers have turned to the XonaChip line.
Brad Taylor, company counsel and husband of founder and chief science officer and biomedical engineer Anne Taylor, Ph.D., said the upgraded version of its device is microscope ready, it eliminates a preparation step, and that saves researchers time.
This summer Xona will introduce another innovation, the Xona ChipTray. The ChipTray holds two XonaChips (or other microfluidic devices) and provides an enclosure for incubating cells within a humidified environment that is also optimized for microscopy.
Brad Taylor, in an interview with the Biotech Center, said that when culturing neurons or other cells within microfluidic devices, scientists have to contend with evaporation from incubation and warming. The ChipTray keeps the cultures hydrated. “We’re hoping researchers see the use of this in any laboratory setting where they have to maintain long-term cells of any kind,” he said.
The company said its new products are of particular interest to pharmaceutical companies for higher-throughput drug testing using neurons. “There are great opportunities for higher-throughput testing. Xona is focused on the development of compatible technology as well as assays that will allow us to test hundreds of compounds rapidly for both preclinical drug and toxicity testing. That’s the next step,” Taylor said. “That will take most of our energy for the next couple of years.”
Anne Taylor will leave her position as an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to join the company full-time in September. The company also plans to hire another Ph.D.-level researcher in September.
The company is debt free and receives no outside venture capital. The National Institutes of Health sponsored research with grants in excess of $2.5 million to develop the XonaChip and for other research projects, including a recent $250,000 grant for an epilepsy study.
Brad Taylor said the company expects to expand its business connections in Asia and Europe and sees increasing interest in its technology for research on neurodegenerative diseases.
Xona’s website includes videos from a science journal showing how its chip device works, as well as case studies in which researchers call the company’s products “a game-changer.”