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Rosa Biotech Raises £760K to Develop Diagnostic Biosensing Platform

NEW YORK – Rosa Biotech said Thursday that it has raised £760,000 ($984,000) from angel investors to commercialize an artificial intelligence-based biosensing technology that mimics mammals’ sense of smell with a potential application for medical diagnostics and pharmaceuticals.

University of Bristol, UK-spinout Rosa said that it will use the funding to grow its team, build out an automated platform, and demonstrate the utility of its technology to address challenges in new sectors.

The firm said its sensing platform detects a faint chemical signature emitted by chronic diseases, inspired by dogs' ability to smell malaria, Parkinson’s disease, and other conditions.

In developing the technology, researchers at Bristol BioDesign Institute, a University of Bristol research institute for synthetic biology, have learned over the past 20 years how to design new proteins from scratch, Dek Woolfson, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Bristol, said in a statement. "Some mimic natural protein structures, but others are entirely new structures," he said. "We built a series of barrel-shaped proteins that resemble proteins of the mammalian olfactory system, but are much simpler, easier to make, and easier to handle." 

The researchers make arrays of different barrel-shaped proteins, load each barrel with a dye, and then expose the array to something that they want to analyze, such as a bodily fluid that may show signs of disease.

Different molecules in the sample dislodge different amounts of dye across the array, yielding color patterns that are analyzed using machine learning. By recording patterns for healthy and diseased samples, the group anticipates building sensors for early-stage diagnosis of disease, Woolfson said.

Rosa said that it is working with several clinicians and pharma manufacturers to refine, develop, and commercialize its technology.

The firm's CEO, Andy Boyce, said in a statement that the sensing platform is "sensitive enough to detect the faint chemical signature given off by chronic diseases [and] also versatile enough to be applied to a broad range of sensing challenges, such as the complex manufacturing process for high-value drugs."

"An important aspect of our technologies is that the barrels bind in a non-specific manner," Boyce said in an interview. "This means that, within a complex mixture, each barrel is binding to multiple different analytes. The important thing for us is the pattern of binding across our array."

The approach, called differential sensing, underpins mammals' sense of smell and the technology used in most electronic noses, he said, adding that the company is exploring "several different disease classes."

The team of angel investors backing Rosa include the founders of Ziylo, a biosensing company recently acquired by Novo Nordisk for up to $800 million, and Cramer Systems, an enterprise software company acquired by Amdocs for $425 million.