Astellas to explore millimeter-sized implants for diagnosis and treatment

Using ultra-small device implants being developed by Iota Biosciences, Astellas Pharma hopes to explore new methods of delivering diagnostics and therapies that could work in concert with traditional treatments—or even replace them, as the company looks to create new revenue streams outside its core products.

No larger than a few millimeters, Iota’s tiny, wireless biosensors are powered by ultrasound waves from outside the body. Under a joint R&D agreement, the two companies aim to design new, purpose-built devices and conduct preclinical studies in several diseases over the coming years.

“With our Rx+ strategy, we aim to create innovative healthcare solutions that combine our strengths in the prescription drug business developed over many years with technologies and knowledge from fields outside of the traditional Rx space,” Astellas’ chief strategy officer, Naoki Okamura, said in a statement. “This agreement is part of our efforts, and we will continue to actively invest in this field.”

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Astellas has previously backed the Berkeley, California-based startup, including through its U.S. venture management arm, and participated in its $15 million series A round in 2018. The financial details of the new collaboration were not disclosed.

Iota plans to develop new classes of biosensors under its Neural Dust platform, with the goal of monitoring the conditions of tissues and organs, as well as providing miniaturized electronic stimulators small enough to target individual nerves and muscles.51

A piezoelectric crystal converts ultrasound waves into electricity, to power sensing electrodes and a transistor. The device also uses the ultrasound waves to communicate and send back its data, allowing it to be placed deeper in the body than radio-controlled implants.