Nanopore technology funding

Oxford Nanopore Technologies has received £17.4m in new funding for further development and commercialisation of its electronic measurement technology for classifying molecules.

The funds were raised by existing investors including Lansdowne Partners, IP Group and Invesco Perpetual, new undisclosed US institutions and the company’s DNA sequencing marketing partner Illumina UK.

Oxford Nanopore had previously raised £32m since its formation in 2005.

The company intends to accelerate its proprietary technology, which uses real-time electronic measurement of current through small holes (nanopores) to identify molecules of interest as they interact with the nanopore.

In addition to the development of the core platform technology, funding will be directed to the Oxford Nanopore’s lead project in DNA sequencing and early work in protein analysis. Both projects use common elements of the company’s electronic measurement technology.

The Engineer reported last year that the DNA sequencing project at Oxford Nanopore could help advance personalised medicine, a concept in which doctors use individual and genetic information to provide the best healthcare for a person.

This genetic information can only be revealed by cracking an individual’s DNA code, which is stored as four chemical bases – adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine.

DNA sequencing systems provide a printout detailing the order of a person’s As, Gs, Cs and Ts.

The technology electrically identifies DNA bases without the use of fluorescent labels – a common technique in DNA sequencing that requires time-consuming sample preparation.

It uses a nano-sized protein pore and a special enzyme called an exonuclease, both of which are set into an oily layer arrayed on a silicon chip.

The exonuclease works to split DNA bases from their strand and direct them into the aperture of the nanopore.

As bases pass through the pore, they briefly bind with a cyclodextrin sugar ring molecule.

This generates a disruption in an electric current that identifies the base in question.

The information is then processed to provide sequence data.

Oxford Nanopore foresees its work on protein analysis being applied for diagnostics and drug development and identification of a range of other molecules for security and defence and environmental monitoring. The company claims its technology is more modular and scalable than other protein analysis techniques because it is driven by electronics rather than optics.