The Silicon Review
All cellular analysis workflows require significant sample processing, which currently consumes most of the experimental time and cost but has been mostly devoid of revolutionary new technologies. For sample enrichment specifically, conventional methods include manual manipulation, centrifugation, magnetic bead conjugation, flow sorting, and more recently, FACS (fluorescent activated cell sorting).
These current methods are widely used and have been around for decades, but each has its own limitation. For example, samples are subjected to extremely harsh conditions such as high G-force, PSI pressure, or alteration of their biological state due to the use of stains, labels, or markers. These commonly result in apoptosis, low cell viability, low cell recovery, variable subpopulation losses, activation, or cell stress, all of which significantly limit the ability to recapitulate the native biology meant to be studied.
Headquartered in Menlo Park, CA, LevitasBio's technology is changing the game in cellular analysis. Its technology enables the separation of samples using magnetic levitation, a gentle process that differentiates based on cell density and requires no dyes, labels, markers, or high pressure. As a result, the cell's natural biological state is preserved, ensuring that the gene expression profile and downstream analysis and results are not impacted. Further, since the cells are gently suspended in an optimized buffer, they can be imaged and analyzed, offering the ability to characterize the target sample and make critical downstream decisions.
LevitasBio came into existence in 2017 as a spin-off from Harvard and Stanford Universities. The company has grown substantially over the last four years and now has 35+ employees. LevitasBio's team consists of seasoned veterans in the life sciences and/or diagnostic space who bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise, and passion for what they do.
"Our disruptive technology is what makes us unique and stand out. We offer a label-free sample enrichment solution that removes dead cells and debris while enriching for high quality, viable cells in just three steps and 20 minutes without the use of labels, dyes, antibodies, or high flow pressure," said Martin Pieprzyk, CEO of LevitasBio. "Other sample prep methods require removal of dead cells and debris first, and require, on average, 80% more time and steps in their protocols."
Sample prep is a crucial step in all workflows, with a direct impact on downstream data and analysis, and yet, there has been no innovation in this space for 30 years. In sample processing, researchers will typically need to identify and label particles, for which they generally use dyes or labels, which naturally modifies the cells. Researchers also employ mechanically stressful and time-consuming techniques for separating the cells, such as high-pressure separation or mechanical collection with metallic beads, which damage the samples. "Here at LevitasBio, we mitigate these challenges with our next-generation solution. Researchers start with their native biological sample, and we enable them to process and analyze their sample in a way that doesn't cause any damage and doesn't change the state of the sample itself."
Next-Generation Sample Enrichment Technology
Conventional methods of sample prep or specifically sample enrichment are very laborious, time-consuming, and require many steps. They also require separate removal of dead cells and debris prior to cell separation. In comparison, the LeviCell™ system enables the removal of dead cells and debris alongside sample enrichment, allowing viable cells to be obtained in just three steps and 20 minutes. Additionally, for larger cells, the enrichment protocol can be as fast as 5 minutes. "The LeviCell system is our flagship product that enables cell enrichment and characterization using magnetic levitation, which is a novel approach to cellular analysis," explained Martin Pieprzyk.
Cells of different types or states have intrinsic physical properties that respond to a magnetic density field, resulting in unique levitation heights. When paired with LevitasBio's single-use cartridges, the input sample is processed by the LeviCell using magnetic levitation, resulting in two distinct populations that have been analyzed and separated based on these physical properties. Scientists can then collect these fractions for downstream processing.
While LevitasBio is focused on adoption and expansion today, just 18 months ago, it was a different story. LevitasBio was preparing for the commercial launch of its LeviCell system when the pandemic first hit in March 2020. They were three months away and faced with a dilemma. Should they continue to move forward? "We decided to proceed with the launch and put specific processes in place to secure customer adoption," recalled the CEO of LevitasBio. "Most companies in the life-science industry generally rely upon face-to-face interactions, on-site visits, and technical support. Due to lockdowns and restrictions, we were able to install systems for customers and conduct demonstrations remotely."
Additionally, LevitasBio applied its technology directly to mitigate the global pandemic by empowering scientists to cleanly isolate viable alveolar type II cells, a sensitive cell type that cannot be easily enriched by other methods and are central actors in the progression of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
"While the pandemic has certainly proved challenging, the pace of scientific research that led to multiple vaccines has been nothing but inspirational. With the recent news that COVID-19 severely impacts major organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys, and liver, in addition to lungs, we want to ensure that our customers are equipped with the most advanced tool for cellular analysis to support their specific areas of research," stated Martin Pieprzyk, CEO.
The application of LevitasBIo's technology towards accelerated discovery or experimentation that was previously impossible – was the primary aim for the company's initial growth stage. "Quite simply, our success is measured by the success of our first customers and partners in applying our technology to research."
Meanwhile, LevitasBio continues developing new technologies and system capabilities that will expand the power of its integrated workflows. Additionally, the company continues to expand its ability to meet customer needs both upstream (in next-generation reagents and protocols) and downstream (in analytical capabilities meant to characterize prepared samples). In the near future, LevitasBio aims to apply the technology and developed workflows in new, innovative ways that serve an ever-growing breadth of scientific, translational, and eventually clinical applications.
Martin Pieprzyk, CEO
Martin is a highly technical life science executive who brings deep knowledge of the Life Science Industry, with extensive experience in single-cell genomics, next-generation sequencing, gene expression, microfluidics, and digital PCR applications. He is also well versed in company development and funding, from inception through IPO process and public company operations. His combined background and experience position him well to continue leading LevitasBio in the company's mission to revolutionize cellular analysis.