In the process of commercialising the world’s first and only system that can capture and count Circulating Tumour Cells (CTCs) in their native state, Clearbridge BioMedics is paving the way for personalised cancer treatments and companion diagnostics in the near future.
Their product, CTChip, is the next generation non-invasive ‘liquid biopsy’ for cancer detection and is set to change the face of cancer diagnostics and treatment. Their label-free technology does not employ biomarkers to identify circulating tumour cells (CTCs), which are critical components in cancer detection and treatment. Instead, the non-invasive procedure uses biomechanical properties of cells alone, allowing intact and viable CTCs to be isolated and retrieved.
CTCs are extremely rare cells that have detached from a primary tumour and are circulating in the bloodstream. Using proprietary technology from NUS, Clearbridge BioMedic’s ClearCell™ System and CTChip® can isolate and retrieve viable CTCs from an intravenous blood sample, without the need to pre-select cells based on biomarker expression. Current technologies identify and select CTCs through a multi-step process based on surface biomarker expression. Often the captured cells cannot be recovered in their native state. With its highly differentiated technology, the ClearCell™ System has distinct advantages over existing systems, including its ability to allow label-free, “non-invasive” isolation, enumeration and retrieval of CTCs from whole blood. This breakthrough enables clinicians to conduct cancer diagnosis, screening, disease management and post-cancer monitoring, which are invaluable towards helping them make timely, life-saving decisions, and potentially pave the way for personalised cancer treatment. “It’s as simple as doing a blood test, and you can take out the CTCs to study them,” says co-founder Johnson Chen.
Clearbridge BioMedics first embarked on its ambitious venture in 2009 when Johnson returned to Singapore after a seven-year work stint in Hong Kong and reconnected with Chong Chee Wah, his ex-schoolmate from Hwa Chong Junior College. The two friends had been teammates in the school’s science quiz team and computer quiz team. Deciding to start their own firm, the self-confessed pair of nerds went searching for viable technologies to invest in. That was when they found out about the micro-filtration biochip system developed by NUS’ Professor Lim Chwee Teck, whom Johnson had met during his university days at the University of Cambridge, UK. This link helped Johnson and Chee Wah start the ball rolling at Clearbridge BioMedics, in which Professor Lim and NUS eventually came to own a small stake. With NUS Enterprise’s assistance, the duo went on to successfully license the technology and secure a SPRING Singapore TECS (Technology Enterprise Commercialisation Scheme) Proof-of-Value Grant, which allowed them to spend the next 18 months on product development.
The company finally unveiled the ClearCell™ System through a soft launch at the American Association of Cancer Research in 2011, garnering substantial interest that has led to the formation of many key partnerships. In the meantime, Professor Lim was also conferred the IES Prestigious Engineering Achievement Award 2010 and the President’s Technology Award (PTA) 2011 for his groundbreaking research on the microfiltration biochip (CTChip®).
Clearbridge BioMedics is clearly focused on its immediate goals. Andrew Wu, Project Director, shares, “We will be seeking Series B funding in 2012 to accelerate our product development so as to bring the technology forward as an in vitro diagnostic. We are also looking for partners with complementary technologies in microfluidics and molecular assays.”
Following the success of Clearbridge BioMedics, Clearbridge Accelerator licensed two more technologies from NUS to establish Clearbridge NanoMedics Pte Ltd and Clearbridge VitalSigns Pte Ltd. Clearbridge NanoMedics specialises in innovative high-performance nanofibre composite sheet technology which enables the development of paper thin cosmetic facial masks that offer easy ingredient activation and dramatically improved absorption. The nanofibres can also be used as a better growth medium for cell and tissue culturing. The third company, Clearbridge VitalSigns, has set its sights on commercialising the next generation of body-worn vital signs acquisition products based on a proprietary ultra-low power chip from NUS/A*Star. Having licensed the technology since 2010, the company hopes to produce an ultra-wearable and medical-grade compact device that users can wear comfortably to monitor their vital signs over an extended period of time.
- Andrew Wu,
- Project Director