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SuperNova Developing Point of Care Diagnostics Technology
SuperNova Diagnostics®, a US-based, global diagnostics company with deep China connections, is developing a point of care platform based on LCD technology. The device combines ease of use with low cost – a seemingly unbeatable combination. And it is now moving toward production. “It’s going to be a good year for Supernova Diagnostics,” said Neil Campbell, CEO and Co-Founder of the company in an exclusive ChinaBio® Today interview. “There aren’t a lot of technologies out there that can do what we do.”
The heart of SuperNova’s technology is AmpCrystals™, a hyper-dense, energy mediated crystal that is triggered by a SuperNova process. When that happens, the crystals implode, creating light that is strong enough to be seen by the naked eye – the supernova that gives the company its name. The light appears within seconds and lasts for days. Potentially, the technology could distinguish between sub-types of flu, for example, or it could perform tests for other infectious diseases, DNA or chronic disease.
One of the first Supernova tests to hit the China market will be an application that measures neopterin, a biomarker for acute and chronic inflammatory conditions. Neopterin is found in conjunction with more than 80 different inflammation-mediated diseases, which might indicate the presence of an infection, cancer or diseases associated with cardiovascular, CNS or respiratory problems. In March 2011, SuperNova announced a deal with Shenzhen Kang Sheng Bao Bio-Technology Co., its China distribution partner, to develop the neopterin test (see story).
According to Campbell, SuperNova’s technology stands alone among its competitors because the brightness of its signal means AmpCrystals can measure analytes directly – without boosting either the signal or the sample. Absent any amplification process, Supernova’s tests are less expensive, and they have superior sensitivity.
The technology is capable of being integrated into many existing systems. Although Supernova is working with companies that already have diagnostic devices in place, it is also developing a handheld device, the Solaris® reader, which looks like a medium-sized TV remote. “We’ll give away the reader,” said Campbell, “and charge for the individual tests, just like the cellular telephone companies give away their phones for a subscription agreement.” The small reader allows users to have complete mobility, putting the functions of a lab wherever they are needed.
Ease of use is an important point for the diagnostic device – but cost is also significant. Campbell says SuperNova could sell the individual tests for less than a dollar apiece depending on volumes and commitments. That gives medical personnel in the field the ability to perform on-the-spot tests, with near-immediate results and at a very competitive price. Combining all of the virtues into a single package makes AmpCrystals a product that would interest an organization like Doctors Without Borders, or any other application where access to a central lab is an issue.
Hong Kong Connection
Supernova Diagnostics began as a Hong Kong company in late 2007. The company is founded on a technology owned by SuperNova and developed by Reinhard Renneberg, PhD, the CSO at Supernova and also a faculty member at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Its major backers include two Hong Kong investors, HDC Holdings (Hong Kong) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, along with Imprimatur Capital of London.
In early 2010, Supernova signed two deals with Shenzhen Kang Sheng Bao Bio-Technology Co., Ltd., one a general distribution agreement for its products and the other a specific contract for the neopterin test.
In a GenomeWeb article (see story), CEO Campbell said that one of the exit strategies for investors may be an IPO. Otherwise, the company may seek an M&A deal with an existing company. The problem with that stratagem is that Supernova would like to be the surviving corporation. To make that happen, Supernova would have to find a struggling company, probably one with outdated technology. That means it would need to identify a company that is weak – but not so weak that its baggage outweighs its strengths. It might be difficult to find that “Goldilocks” M&A target.
The medical diagnostic sector is just one of several potential markets for SuperNova’s technology. The others, all of which are easier to enter because they don’t require the equivalent of FDA testing, are human wellness, bio-safety, food safety and animal health.
For food safety, the test offers a “new paradigm,” according to Campbell, an issue that is important to both China and the US. By testing smaller and smaller subgroups, “You don’t have to throw the whole lot away,” he says, only the offending batch.
Another test might be air quality on airlines as a public health issue. Before passengers de-board, the air could be tested for epidemic flu strains, preventing them from spreading to new countries.
The Path from Here
With a China distributor already lined up, Campbell is eager to enter China. The markets are growing quickly and the central labs are not as prevalent as they are in more well-developed cities. “We will go to China coastal cities first, he says, then tier two and tier three cities.”
Supernova is about to finish a test of the technology that will distinguish viral infections from bacterial invasions. The company will soon be launching a wellness panel in Europe, and in the spring, it hopes to also begin marketing research products, which don’t require approvals.
Campbell says he will approach governmental ministries about using Supernova’s technology to deal with the problem of insuring food safety and other emerging health issues.
Although Supernova professes to be relatively comfortable financially, there is never enough money, and the company is in the middle of a $6 million capital raise. “We are about 40% done,” declared Campbell, “with money coming from the US, Europe and Asia. We will use the new capital to launch products.”
The opportunity is large, according to SuperNova, with growth that will outstrip even the expanding general diagnostics market. Because the product is easy to use, it has an advantage, even if users don’t understand the science that makes it work. “Users don’t see the technology. They see that they can do something they couldn’t do before,” Campbell concluded.
Bringing health to the masses is a good recipe for success. In China, it’s a good fit with the government’s desire to elevate healthcare to international levels. Supernova Diagnostics hopes it fills a niche that will help make that happen.