Imperial College London

From home-grown to international: New companies move into the Imperial Incubator


Dr Pantelis Georgiou

New residents at the Imperial Incubator have come from as far afield as Boston and as close to home as the South Kensington campus.

Despite the difference in their geographical origins, the new companies moving into Imperial's hub for deep science startup companies share a similar motivation – to grow and develop their innovative life science startups into fully fledged diagnostic solutions to some of the biggest health challenges we face today.

Fast, smart diagnosis of infectious disease

ProtonDx is an Imperial startup originating from Dr Pantelis Georgiou’s group in the Centre for Bio-Inspired Technology that has developed a microchip based rapid diagnostic technology for infectious diseases called Lacewing.

The device not only detects and diagnoses infections but can also geo-tag results and upload data to a cloud-based system to monitor disease progression and track outbreaks as they happen. Lacewing has already been tested on bacterial resistant infections, dengue and malaria detection, in the UK, South East Asia and Africa. Most recently the team has adapted the technology as a COVID-19 hot lab test for the current pandemic in the UK, which provides quantitative results on a smartphone application in under 20 minutes and is synchronised to a cloud server.

The Lacewing device not only detects and diagnoses infections but can also geo-tag results and upload data to a cloud-based system to monitor diseases.

The team at ProtonDx, including founders Dr Pantelis Georgiou, Dr Jesus Rodriguez Manzano and Dr Nicolas Moser, are Imperial researchers and the company is already embedded in the enterprise ecosystem. 

Chief Operations Officer Dr Nicolas Moser developed the chip during his PhD which was funded by an Imperial EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (HiPEDS) and the team have benefited from working closely with clinicians and epidemiologists within the Imperial NHS trust.

“Imperial is excellent for multidisciplinary research,” says Dr Moser. “It’s very easy to engage with clinicians and life scientists and it’s this multidisciplinary DNA that has allowed us to accelerate the translation of our technologies.”

To support Lacewing’s commercial deployment Dr Moser has been part of the Techcelerate and MedTech SuperConnector (MTSC) programmes, which have helped the company develop it market research and business plan. He has also benefited from being part of the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service and recently he has been accepted onto the MTSC cohort for diagnostics. After the technology was presented at a Friends of Imperial College event, ProtonDx became an Imperial spinout at the end of 2020 with the support and investment from members of Friends. 

The team moved into the Incubator office space earlier in March 2021 and are focusing on the COVID-19 test application of their platform. Supported by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) they are currently conducting first phase of validation trials at Charing Cross Hospital, demonstrating a high level of accuracy.

“We moved to the Incubator to be part of Imperial’s ecosystem for startups,” says Dr Moser. “Having been supported throughout our journey by Imperial it just seemed the logical step so we can benefit from the startup mentality and gain insight and support on scaling, investment and regulation.”  

Through the work with DHSC ProtonDx is working closely with UK manufacturer Surface Technology International to ramp up production with the aim of getting the COVID-19 test product to market this year.

Precision diagnostics for Alzheimer’s

Esya Labs is developing early, precise and cost-effective 360° diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Their aim is twofold: to diagnose AD before the damage sets in and to assist pharmaceutical companies in drug development by enabling an innovative way to quantify patients’ response to a treatment.

Currently diagnosis for Alzheimer’s is complicated and requires a series of tests usually taken when an individual is already showing clear signs of dementia. Esya’s technology uses engineered DNA to create chemical activity maps of live cells to understand the disease state for Alzheimer’s Disease – a process that had previously not been possible. The company is now working on validating the biomarkers it has detected using its technology, to build its first in class diagnostic product for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Eysa Labs will go to market with a 360 degree product suite for Alzheimer’s that enables precision diagnosis, longitudinal disease monitoring, and a therapeutic discovery platform

The startup was originally spun out of the lab of Yamuna Krishnan who is Professor of Chemistry at University of Chicago and the youngest woman in history to win India’s highest scientific recognition (the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award for Chemical Sciences). Together with co-founder and CEO of Esya labs, Dhivya Venkat, the two female entrepreneurs have licenced the technology with the aim of revolutionising the way neurodegenerative diseases are diagnosed.

The company has recently received $250,000 proof-of-concept capital from Chicago's George Shultz Innovation Fund after completing a 10-week competitive due diligence process.

“The Imperial White City Incubator and it’s high-quality Biosafety Level 2 facilities are a natural match for us,” says Venkat. “Imperial’s research institution is world renowned and White City is a rapidly growing biotech hub in London. We believe we can benefit from being part of the Imperial College ecosystem and really appreciate having other Biotech startups on a similar journey as ourselves around us.” 

The UK HQ of Esya Labs moved into the Incubator earlier in the year from the nearby location of Open Cell, Shepherd’s Bush. The team are currently working on complementing current Alzheimer’s biomarkers with their novel technology. They are planning to go to market with a 360 degree product suite for Alzheimer’s that enables precision diagnosis, longitudinal disease monitoring, and a therapeutic discovery platform for personalised medicine in the Alzheimer’s disease field.

“The Incubator provides a great home for high-growth potential companies when they first spinout from university or expand internationally,” said Richelle McNae, Imperial's Entrepreneurial Programmes Coordinator. “The flexible lab and office space in conjunction with a supportive community of like-minded companies all tackling big challenges is a unique environment tailored for deep science companies. Supporting a mix of companies from Imperial like ProtonDx and externally like Esya Labs means we are able to create an extremely valuable network for our companies.”


Franca Davenport

Franca Davenport
Communications and Public Affairs

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Comms-strategy-Entrepreneurial-ecosystem, Translation, Entrepreneurship, White-City-Campus, Enterprise, Infectious-diseases
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