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Genome editing partnership pays off for Sphere Fluidics

Scissors cutting ribbon arranged in DNA shape.

© Lightspring (Shutterstock)

Cambridge biosciences business Sphere Fluidics has boosted its turnover by €360,000 after Enterprise Europe Network brokered a strategic partnership with a Swiss firm, Geneva Biotech.


Within six months of being introduced by EEN, the two companies were working together on a €1.6 million Eurostars collaborative project to develop an automated benchtop device that will aid researchers in carrying out complex genome editing tasks.


Sphere Fluidics has developed a revolutionary system (Cyto-Mine®) for single-cell analysis. It promises to transform the discovery and development of biotherapeutics for treatment of cancer and inflammatory diseases and vaccine generation.


Cyto-Mine® can screen millions of individual cells daily, with up to 100-fold improvements over conventional techniques – and at lower capital and operational cost.


The company spotted an opportunity to adapt this technology for more complex processes such as high-throughput genome editing of single cells.


Automating and industrialising


Sphere Fluidics’ CEO Frank Craig, who founded the company eight years ago, explained: “Genome editing is used around the world but it’s not industrialised. What we are doing is automating and industrialising it so that others can focus on clever biology and discovering new drugs rather than genome editing through manual processes.”


But he needed an international partner if his company was to achieve its goal of breaking into the £3 billion global market for genome editing technologies, with thousands of potential customers.


Hendrik Pavel, EEN adviser in the East of England, used the network to search for a suitable partner. That resulted in an introduction to Geneva Biotech through an EEN colleague in Switzerland.


The two companies soon agreed to submit a joint application for Eurostars funding to develop large DNA cargo (Compressed ARchiving for GenOmics) gene delivery and genome engineering systems.


“Winning the grant was a big surprise,” said Dr Craig. “It’s such a new area of technology that Geneva Biotech was the only contact that EEN could find.


“We had heard about the Eurostars programme but weren’t sure how to approach it. Fortunately, our Swiss partners had the knowledge and experience to prepare the application in the right format. We led the grant but it was a 50-50 effort.”


240 customers worldwide


The funding will allow Sphere Fluidics to continue to grow staff and turnover through 2018 and beyond. It already has 240 customers worldwide for its other bio-products.


Dr Craig explained: “We employ 22 people and are currently hiring another six. We aim to be around 50 or 60 people within two years.”


Earmarked as ‘One to Watch’ in the 2018 European Business Awards, the company recently doubled its office and laboratory space at Babraham Research Campus and opened a new lab and office in the US.


The plan this year is to use the industrial collaborative programme and try to engage with some big pharma companies to help accelerate and fund the whole project.


He added: “We’ve got some exciting results and proved that our approach should work. I did some early market testing, talking to four of the top 10 pharma companies, and they’re all very excited.”

“We didn’t know where to start in finding a partner. EEN made the process very smooth. We wouldn’t have found the partner, the grant or the project otherwise.”

Dr Frank Craig, CEO and founder, Sphere Fluidics

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