Wyss spinout bags $5M to one-up a Nobel Prize-winning tech

A new company spun out of Harvard University's Wyss Institute raised $5.15 million in Series A cash to develop a technology its founders say can generate images of unprecedented resolution, creating a new avenue for diagnostics and drug discovery.

Called Ultivue, the company is at work on reagents that use small DNA strands to light up individual molecules in a tissue sample, in the process painting high-resolution mosaics that could spotlight unseen details in biology.

Ultivue's technologies, called DNA-PAINT and DNA-Exchange, are designed to improve upon the field of super resolution microscopy, whose inventors won the Nobel Prize in chemistry last year. Traditional microscopes had always been limited in image resolution by the wavelengths of light until super resolution microscopy came around with a clever use of hardware that allows researchers to apply fluorescent dyes to individual molecules at a time, snapping pictures along the way to piece together a more detailed picture.

Ultivue, thanks to discoveries by Wyss' Peng Yin, believes it can improve on that prizewinning discovery. The company's technology doesn't use dyes but instead small strands of DNA that temporarily bind to their targets before moving on to another, allowing for the same sort of piecemeal high-resolution imaging with less of a hardware burden, the company said. And because the strands harmlessly float on after briefly binding, researchers can repeat the process over and over to map more colors on the sample without worrying about the buildups that limit the use of traditional dyes, according to Ultivue.

With its Series A cash, courtesy of Arch Venture Partners and billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, the company is now scaling up to the commercial stage, co-founder David Walt said. The plan is to first start offering its reagents, which work with widely used microscopy devices, to life sciences researchers around the globe and create a revenue stream, Walt said. That money would then support Ultivue's in-house development of diagnostic tests down the line, he said.

"The goal is to, for lack of a better word, democratize the technology so that any researcher who is really interested in doing this has the ability to do it," Walt said.

In the meantime, the early-stage company is in the process of "hiring people and really trying to put some meat on the bones of our business plan," he said. Ultivue is still in the process of searching for a CEO, and the company's only disclosed employees are co-founders Walt, Yin and Ralf Jungmann, who previously worked in Yin's Wyss lab.

Walt, a professor at Tufts University, co-founded genomic sequencing giant Illumina ($ILMN) and sits on the company's board. He also helped the privately held Quanterix get off the ground with its diagnostic technology.

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