April 20, 2003

BioDetect rapidly and accurately tests for the presence of biological pathogens, such as the virus that causes SARS as well as anthrax, and smallpox.As concern over severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) grows worldwide, Israeli technology is leading the way in the race to develop a method of quickly detecting the presence of viruses that cause such illnesses. Such rapid and early detection will go a long way towards helping to slow their spread in the future.

Integrated Nano-Technologies, a leading U.S. company, is now using Israeli technology developed at the Haifa Technion as the backbone of a new DNA based testing system called BioDetect that will rapidly and accurately test for the presence of biological pathogens, such as the virus that causes SARS as well as anthrax, and smallpox.

According to a World Health organization (WHO) report, a total of 3169 cases of SARS, with 144 deaths, have been reported to WHO from 21 countries.

The Rochester, New York-based Integrated Nano-Technologies has acquired from the Technion Research and Development Foundation in Haifa the right to use three patents developed by its researchers which which cover the metallization of DNA, and form the basis for the BioDetect system. Technion’s ground breaking work in this field has been recognized through publications in the journals Science and Nature.

According to the company, the Israeli technologies, when combined with INT’s expertise in chip fabrication and molecular biology, will produce an entirely new and more effective sensor for virus detection.

The BioDetect system will fill a substantial void in current methods of detection, which are slow, lab-based, and expensive. The system will return results in less than 30 minutes, and is small enough to be carried for use outdoors or installed in air circulation systems, according to INT. The company has been developing BioDetect for the past two years.

“Traditional biological agent detection systems involve sending samples to laboratories, where they undergo a complex testing process that can take up to 24 hours to complete,” said Michael Connolly, CEO of Integrated Nano-Technologies.
“The BioDetect system will generate results in the field substantially faster and with greater accuracy than any existing system or test.”

A BioDetect prototype should be ready by summer. A system ready for sale will be made by year?s end, Connolly said. The current system is the size of a shoe box and weighs about 20 pounds. Within a year, INT plans to make a hand-held version, which also could be used in hospitals or doctor’s offices.

The BioDetect system is based on the electronic detection of DNA binding on a computer chip. Using the Technion technology, INT developed a method for coating DNA with metal to make it a conductive wire. First, DNA probes are placed on a computer chip. Air, liquid or solid samples are passed over the chip. If there is a match, the sample DNA binds with the DNA probe.

The metal coating then is introduced to the system. Where there is a match, the DNA creates a bridge between electrodes. The metal coats the DNA bridge and conducts the charge between the electrodes. The connection is detected by the chip, identifying the sample and producing results within 30 minutes.

INT has had early stage discussions about the detection system with government agencies. Connolly said he also is talking with defense contractors about partnerships. INT’s system could be used, for example, in drone aircraft to detect biological warfare agents or on commercial airliners to monitor air for disease-causing bacteria or viruses. The worldwide licenses for the set of the three Technion patents give the company “a very strong and secure patent position” that will allow INT to have an exclusive position in the market, Connolly said.

The Technion team included Prof. Uri Sivan, Dr. Yoav Eichen, and technician Gedalia Ben Yosef. The company paid the Technion $4 million in cash and will pay royalties on future sales. This is the first deal of its kind for the Technion in the nanotechnology field.

The director of the Technion R&D Institute, Prof. Zvi Kochavi, said that the Technion is a leader in both teaching and research in the new and promising field of nano-technology.

“The future lies in miniaturization,” he stressed. “Today’s microelectronics, which deals with increasing the complexity of the electronic circuit by compressing it into a tiny area, is about to reach the limits of miniaturization. In order to enable compression of information in growing and larger quantities on smaller and smaller surfaces, it is necessary to move into the molecular field.

“Molecular electronics will offer memory size a hundred thousand times greater than existing technology and will operate faster and with significantly greater computing power. Future developments in molecular electronics of advanced nano-electronic components will enable creating a supercomputer the size of a sugar cube,” Kochavi added.

Attorney Avi Goldsobel, legal advisor of the Technion R&D Institute, said that negotiations for the deal took a long time, due to the fact that it was the first agreement the organization has ever signed in this field.

“ITN will develop products based on the patents of the Technion researchers and will license development and implementation of additional applications,” he stressed. “Income from this will be divided among the company, the Technion R&D Institute and the researchers. We were also given the option to convert our rights into shares in the American company.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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