UK-based developer of graphene-based biological sensors, HexagonFab, recently raised £1.9 million to accelerate development of its novel technology for process monitoring in the biopharmaceutical industry.

The company has developed a portable and affordable instrument – HexagonFab Bolt – which can very rapidly generate biopharma data.

The £1.9m seed round has been led by Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialization arm of the University (from which the company was spun off), together with Parkwalk Advisors and several private investors. This is in addition to £500k in grants and awards.

Co-founder and director Christoph von Bieberstein says: “There is huge potential for this technology globally but we are narrowly focusing on where the real value of the business lies. Regarding the technology, we are currently at ‘prototype’ stage and have already engaged potential customers that are testing our tools in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and the US".

Most existing technologies for protein analysis rely on measuring changes of optical properties. This can be a change in the refractive index in the case of SPR or a shift in the interference pattern for BLI.

Optical measurements are extremely accurate, but this accuracy comes at the cost of complex optical components. Such components are not only very costly, but prone to failure and without any potential for miniaturization.

‍HexagonFab’s goal is making protein characterization significantly more affordable, easier to use and faster than ever before. The company relies on advances in nanotechnology, microelectronics and advanced algorithms to develop an entirely different approach in the field.

It uses electrical detection only – avoiding optical components. The microchip at the heart of the sensor is capable of analyzing proteins and their interactions in a simple and affordable plug & play tool that fits into the palm of your hand.

The sensor, a stamp sized microchip, detects the electrical charge of biomolecules. Binding events are directly translated into a digital signal.

HexagonFab is building on the technology driving field effect transistors (FET) – the technology that has enabled the computational revolution of the 20th century –and combined it with graphene; Changes in the electrical charges in its environment affect the electrical properties of the graphene layer.

In this way, HexagonFab is able to detect minute electrical charge changes allowing the detection of biomolecule binding with high precision.

Building on years of research at the University of Cambridge, the company has developed the methods to produce and manipulate these atomically thin layers with the required precision. Combining this with a method for stable and fast surface functionalization, it has been able to develop the HexagonFab Bolt.