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STC.UNM Startup Armonica Technologies, Inc. Receives Investment from State Catalyst Fund

Armonica Technologies, Inc., an STC.UNM startup commercializing new technology that promises to be a gigantic leap in genomic sequencing capabilities, has received a $1.5 million investment from the state’s Catalyst Fund and local private investors Cottonwood Technology Funds and Tramway Venture Partners.  The technology is being developed by UNM Distinguished Professor Emeritus Steven Brueck, Professor Jeremy Edwards, and their team at the Center for High Technology Materials.

The technology, called optical nanopore sequencing, uses nanochannels to deliver single DNA molecules through nanopores.  The nanopores slow down DNA translocation enough to produce massively parallel, single-base resolution using optical techniques.

STC CEO Lisa Kuuttila added: “This technology portfolio represents a true disruption in current genomic sequencing technology that could be a huge benefit for the DNA sequencing industry, which is experiencing explosive growth.  The company’s research and development are currently being done at UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM), a research center with a global reputation for inventing disruptive nanoscale technologies and providing outstanding scientific expertise and technical support.  We are very excited about the technology’s potential and believe in the company’s vision.  It’s gratifying to see that the state and New Mexico investors believe in the technology and the company’s vision as well.”

To read more, see the August 21 press release, “Governor Martinez Announces $1.5 Million Investment in Armonica Technologies, Inc.,” from the New Mexico Economic Development Department, and Kevin Robinson-Avila’s August 20 article,  “UNM technology accelerates genomic sequencing,” from the Albuquerque Journal, reprinted below.

Governor Martinez Announces $1.5 Million Investment in Armonica Technologies, Inc.

Armonica Receives Catalyst Fund Investment
Albuquerque, N.M. – Today, Governor Susana Martinez announced a $1.5 million investment in Armonica Technologies, Inc. Armonica is the second New Mexico startup to receive Catalyst Fund investment, which leverages private investment for early stage startups – anchoring them in New Mexico.

“This is an example of a homegrown startup that is going to stay right here in New Mexico and help grow our high-tech sector,” said Governor Martinez. “Because of the Catalyst Fund and investments just like this one we will continue to grow and diversify our economy. I’m proud to help companies like Armonica get off the ground and thrive.”

Governor Martinez recently announced the Catalyst Fund, a $40 million partnership between the State Investment Council, which the Governor chairs, and private-sector investors. These funds will invest in seed and early-stage companies with a focus on tech companies. It is expected the Catalyst Fund will support over 50 companies in New Mexico.

Armonica Technologies, Inc. is an Albuquerque based company in the development stage focused on building its proprietary long-read DNA sequencing technology. The Company’s mission is to become the gold standard of DNA sequencing for precision medicine research applications. Armonica’s technology is based upon a portfolio of patented and patent pending technologies licensed from STC.UNM.

“We are very pleased to have the Catalyst Fund, Tramway, Cottonwood, and NMSIC Focused back us. This capital will provide the resources to accelerate the development of our innovative platform, which will ultimately provide tremendous benefits for genomic research capabilities,” said Scott Goldman, President & CEO of Armonica Technologies.

The Catalyst Fund has leveraged 5 to 1 investments from private sector investors. It capitalizes on New Mexico’s history of strong and successful research and development. The fund will help catapult ideas from New Mexico research institutions – including federal labs and universities – and into the market.

“We are excited to be investing in Armonica because of its outstanding team and the transformative impact long-read DNA sequencing will have on drug discovery and diagnostic capabilities. The Armonica approach eliminates expensive and time consuming library prep, and the extensive computation necessary to assemble current short-read sequences into useful information,” said Waneta C. Tuttle, Fund Manager, Tramway Venture Partners, LP.

Today’s standard genome sequencing approaches require extensive library preparation, and create a massive computational and bioinformatics problem related to reassembling the data set. Armonica’s technology, called optical nanopore sequencing, uses proprietary nanochannels to deliver single DNA molecules through nanopores. Nanopore sequencing produces long DNA strings, or ‘long reads’ which provide more accurate identification of genome variations and abnormalities. Armonica’s approach will lead to a more thorough, faster, and accurate genomic analysis compared to today’s approaches without the need for library preparation. The Company’s innovative platform will enable life science researchers to be more efficient, accurate and productive in their research and discovery capabilities.

“Long-read DNA sequencing has been a long sought after capability to enhance the accuracy and ability to understand the next level of intricacies within the genomic code, but difficult to technically achieve. Armonica’s approach is unique in its simplicity and ability to scale, and therefore its ability to deliver full analytics quickly with the prospect of a price point below current short-read approaches. We are excited to be part of a great team in bringing this technology to market.” said Dave Blivin, Managing Director of Cottonwood Technology Funds.

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About Tramway Venture Partners: Tramway Venture Partners is a seed and early stage fund investing in biotech, medtech and health tech in New Mexico. Visit www.tramwayventures.com

About Cottonwood: Cottonwood Technology Funds is a seed and early-stage technology commercialization fund with offices in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Enschede, the Netherlands. It invests in founding stage technology-related (particularly telecom, chemistry/material sciences, photonics, biosciences, robotics and new energy) businesses originating throughout the Southwest region of the US and also in Northern Europe. These regions include numerous national laboratories, over a dozen major research universities and several research medical centers. Current investments include Skorpios, Clear Flight Solutions, xF Technologies (formerly Incitor), Eurekite, Respira, Trilumina, Acme Materials, OPNT, Bayotech and Exagen. Visit www.cottonwoodtechnologyfund.com for more information.

About Sun Mountain Capital/NMSIC Focused Fund LLC: The NMSIC Focused Fund, LLC is managed by Sun Mountain Capital Partners, LLC. Sun Mountain is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico and focuses on venture capital and private equity investing in high potential underserved geographies. Visit https://sunmountaincapital.com for more information.

Contact: Benjamin Cloutier
505-670-7024 Benjamin.Cloutier@state.nm.us

UNM technology accelerates genomic sequencing

By Kevin Robinson-Avila / Journal Staff Writer
Published: Sunday, August 20th, 2017 at 10:01pm
Updated: Monday, August 21st, 2017 at 12:35am

UNM created these nano-scale tunnels to stretch out strands of DNA for scanning under optical readers as they flow through the channels. Researchers form the nanochannels by stacking up individual silicon carbide particles. Source: The University of New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Today, DNA sequencing is a tortuous process that often takes days and sometimes weeks to read a full human genome, but University of New Mexico researchers may have found a way to cut that down to minutes.

Investors are now lining up behind UNM’s breakthrough, which they say could accelerate the healthcare industry’s use of “precision medicine” based on each individual’s unique DNA structure.

New Mexico-based Cottonwood Technology, Tramway Venture Partners and Sun Mountain Capital are jointly pumping an initial $1.5 million investment into Armonica Technologies Inc., a new startup that’s working to take UNM’s discovery to market.

“Most industry efforts in DNA sequencing today are incremental, next-generation steps to speed things, but this technology is way beyond that,” said Tramway Ventures managing partner Waneta Tuttle. “This could have a dramatic impact to enable the rapid study of (genomes) at lower cost. It’s truly breakthrough technology.”

Distinguished professor emeritus Steven Brueck is leading a team of researchers to fully prove the technology’s viability at UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials. Brueck’s group already demonstrated the ability to push much larger strands of DNA through optical readers than is possible with state-of-the-art industry methods today, potentially paving the way to process a full human genome in minutes.

The team is now working to show that laser readers can accurately scan all of the DNA’s individual characteristics as it passes through the device, something the new venture investment may help accomplish.

A new technique

It’s a daunting challenge, because a full human genome includes about three billion base pairs, or parts, that are matched up in a myriad of ways. Taken together, they form the individual codes that define everything from a person’s hair and eye color to disease susceptibility.

To read, or sequence, the full genome, researchers break the DNA into tiny strands of just 200 to 300 base pairs, which are then pushed individually through an optical scanner.

Afterwards, researchers reassemble all the individual readings to create a complete picture of the full genome. That requires highly advanced computational analysis, which is time-consuming and expensive.

“Current technology breaks the genome into millions of little pieces to read them individually,” Brueck said. “It then tries to put them back together again … Our goal is to sequence much larger sections of DNA, starting with 50,000 bases, meaning much less effort to put it all back together.”

The central problem is that genomic strands are incredibly finicky. They fold and clump up, making it difficult to stretch them out for processing through an optical reader. And when they do go through, it’s at breakneck speed, making it difficult to scan accurately for sequencing.

Brueck’s group has created a new, “optical nanopore sequencing” technique that pushes DNA strands through nano-scale channels, or microscopic holes about one-billionth of a meter. The channels force the strands to stretch out and slow their movement down, allowing the laser readers to process them.

Brueck’s team is also lining up multiple channels side by side, potentially allowing many DNA strands that together contain up to a million base pairs to be processed simultaneously.

Researchers elsewhere have tried pushing large DNA strands through simple nanopores, or one-dimensional holes, that are etched into silica, or glass. But it’s hard to guide the clumped-up strands through them, and the etched material is difficult and expensive to fabricate.

UNM, in contrast, creates three-dimensional nanochannels by stacking silicon carbide particles on top of each other, forming an enclosed tunnel. That’s cost-effective, because those particles are commercially available and inexpensive, Brueck said.

Unique approach

With the new venture investment, Brueck’s team will work on building additional capacity into optical scanners to accurately read the individual strands of DNA. The money will pay for more high-tech equipment and additional researchers for the project.

But the team’s achievements to date have already generated excitement.

“UNM’s technology could provide tremendous acceleration for genomic sequencing,” said Armonica Technologies President and CEO Scott Goldman. “It could be truly transformative, enabling researchers to analyze an entire genome in a fraction of the time it takes today.”

Cottonwood Technology managing director David Blivin said UNM’s unique approach could change the standard for DNA sequencing.

Both Cottonwood and Tramway have received money from the New Mexico government’s new Catalyst Fund, which aims to boost financing for local startups. Gov. Susana Martinez said that’s now helping to grow and diversify New Mexico’s economy.

“This is an example of a homegrown startup that is going to stay right here in New Mexico and help grow our high-tech sector,” Martinez said in a prepared statement. “I’m proud to help companies like Armonica get off the ground and thrive.”