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Swiss Agency Provides CHF 475K to Versantis to Develop POC Blood Ammonia Test

NEW YORK – Liver disease biotechnology firm Versantis announced on Wednesday that it has received approximately CHF 475,000 ($508,576) from Innosuisse to develop a point-of-care device for blood ammonia monitoring.

Innosuisse, the Swiss national innovation agency, will co-fund the project, and Versantis plans to have the Zurich University of Applied Sciences School of Engineering develop a prototype device using a polymersome-based ammonia quantification method, the firm said in a statement. The method was developed and validated by ETH Zurich and outlined in a November paper in Nature Scientific Reports, and exclusively licensed by Versantis.

The ZHAW School of Engineering will use the Innosuisse funding to develop the optoelectronic component of the device and engineer its biomedical instrumentation, Versantis said. Mark Fitzpatrick, the Zurich-based company's CEO, said in a statement that the grant will allow Versantis to advance its technology and partner with in vitro diagnostic manufacturers for planned marketing authorization and commercialization.

The assay is based on transmembrane pH-gradient polymersomes that encapsulate a pH-sensitive ratiometric fluorophore, the company said. By measuring the fluorescence signal, the concentration of ammonia in the sample can be determined. High levels of ammonia in the blood can be a sign of chronic and acute liver diseases and often lead to hepatic encephalopathy, a potentially fatal complication. 

"There is a great unmet medical need for an accurate and user-friendly device to monitor the levels of ammonia in patients with liver disease," Versantis CSO and Cofounder Vincent Forster said in a statement. "We believe using a novel portable point-of-care device will allow daily monitoring of ammonia, thereby significantly reducing hospitalizations and fatal outcomes for patients, while also saving time, effort, and expense of healthcare professionals, supporting caregivers, and family members."

Versantis was founded by scientists from ETH Zurich and has established a wholly owned US subsidiary. It is also developing therapeutic products for liver disease.