Ionpath Inc., a developer of high-definition spatial proteomics, scored $18 million in a series B funding round led by Samsara Biocapital. The round also included global mass spectrometry leader Bruker Corp. as a new investor.

All the company’s major series A investors contributed to the latest round, including Genoa Ventures, ND Capital, Paladin Partners Investments, Trancos Ionpath Investors, Norwich Ventures, and Vertical Venture Partners Growth Fund.

Menlo Park, Calif.-based Ionpath plans to use the investment for continued development and deployment of the company’s Multiplexed Ion Beam Imaging (MIBI) technology, which provides quantitative protein imaging at a subcellular level.

Specifically, the company will invest in its bioinformatics data analysis services, scale up its sales organization globally and ultimately develop a next-generation version of its MIBIscope product, according to Ionpath CEO Sander Gubbens.

The new investment from Bruker is significant, Gubbens said, because it provides a “vote of trust” in Ionpath’s business plan.

“It’s a huge confirmation that we’re on the right path,” Gubbens told BioWorld.

With Bruker’s mass spectrometry technology enabling discovery of large biomolecules and Ionpath’s technology delivering spatial mapping of protein expression at high resolution, there is the opportunity for combination studies that could yield unique insights that could not be reached independently, Gubbens explained. “It sets up a whole new collaboration that can benefit immuno-oncology and other therapeutic areas.”

MIBI platform

The MIBI technology is a tool for researchers that uses secondary-ion mass spectrometry to provide high-resolution images of antibodies tagged with monoisotopic metal reporters. The company commercially launched its MIBIscope product in November 2019, rolling it out at the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer annual meeting in Maryland.

To prepare samples using the MIBI platform, researchers follow conventional immunohistochemistry protocols for formalin fixed paraffin embedded tissue preparation. Tissues are then stained – in a single step – with a mixture of validated antibodies with conjugated elemental reporters. The stationary tissue samples are raster-scanned with an ion beam and secondary elemental ions are generated. Finally, all markers are imaged simultaneously and detected via Time-of-Flight mass spectrometry.

The technology has several advantages over traditional immunohistochemistry analyses, Gubbens explained.

For instance, using just a single scan, the MIBIscope can measure the expression of up to 40 targets, including both high and low abundance proteins, such as PD-1 and FOXP3, at 20x light microscopy resolution.

MIBI subcellular resolution can provide imaging for cellular structures as small as 250 nm, allowing researchers to conduct downstream cell segmentation data analysis.

Also, since the MIBIscope does not fully ablate tissue samples, select regions of interest can be rescanned later for additional analysis.

“It uses scanning ion microscopy and it takes a thin layer off the top of the specimen to yield an image of the protein expression of a particular sample, but the bulk of the sample is preserved so you can re-run the same experiments and confirm results at a later date,” Gubbens said.

That’s an advantage in terms of quality control, he said, but it also allows researchers to come back to the samples later and examine another biomarker that they may not have been looking for the first time around.

Real-world use

Ionpath provides research services, from assay development and imaging to data analysis, to several large pharmaceutical companies and smaller biotech firms, as well as academic institutions. Additionally, the MIBIscope has been sold directly to academic institutions that are using it on translational research projects, both to better understand disease states and to stratify patient populations based on their responses to drug regimens.

“If you can separate those classes up front then you can come up with more tailored medical treatments, with higher successful outcomes for those patients,” Gubbens said.

At this point, about 80% of the Ionpath customers are working in the immuno-oncology area, Gubbens said. But the technology has applications broadly across other areas of medicine and the company is already starting to see traction in neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases.

“As this technology establishes itself more and shows what it can do, it will expand into other diseases as well,” Gubbens said.

One new area of focus for some of the company’s academic customers has been in COVID-19 research. Since the MIBIscope is fundamentally a tissue analysis technology, some researchers are using it to examine lung biopsy samples from COVID-19 patients.

“Understanding the tumor microenvironment is critical for immuno-oncology but there are many other areas where the analysis of tissue at this resolution is really important,” said Brad Nelson, Ionpath’s senior vice president of marketing and corporate strategy.

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