Pleno’s novel approach to genetic marker detection using principles derived from the telecommunications industry has attracted interest from investors and industry veterans alike.
Last month, the company announced a $15 million Pre-series A led by Medical Excellence Capital and Alexandria Venture Investments.
Pleno also announced it had appointed to chair of its board of directors, biotech veteran Gregory T. Lucier, who also contributed to the funding round.
“Rarely do I see a company with the potential to disrupt both emerging and mature markets on the scale of what is possible with Pleno’s technology,” Lucier said. “This isn’t an incremental innovation, it’s a game changer for biomedical research and the widespread clinical adoption of applications like liquid biopsies.”
The funds will support development of Pleno’s instrument platform that uses a technology the company calls “hypercoding.” Pleno reports its instrument can detect up to 10,000 targets per sample and process up to 10,000 samples per day – equivalent to 1,000 times the speed of polymerase chain reaction technology (PCR) and 100 times the sample throughput of next-generation sequencing (NGS).
“It’s not just the speed, it’s the simplicity of the workflow,” van Rooyen said. “If you know what the target is that you’re looking for, we assign these hypercodes to those targets and then we detect the hypercodes which act is a proxy for the targets.”
The inspiration for hypercoding came from principles used in cellular telephone technology, van Rooyen said. Cell phones each have a code that can be quickly distinguished from other phones and discovered in the cellular network using signal processing that cancels out the “noise” created by other cell phones.
“It’s those same principles, those codes, that we use and we just implement it in biochemistry to achieve basically the same thing,” he added. “To multiplex targets or conversations, it’s kind of the same principle that we apply.”
In the future, van Rooyen predicts that sequencing machines will still be used in research to find the genetic targets that clinicians use to detect cancer or pre-natal disorders.
“But as soon as you know what these variants are and where they are in the genome, sequencing is a bit of a heavy lift to do all these applications,” he said. “The best example of this is COVID, where sequencing was used to determine the virus, but all subsequent tests were done using PCR because it is simpler and cheaper way to detect known target.”
Pleno used hypercoding to develop a “PCR-like” instrument that can be used for more complicated tests, van Rooyan said. “With COVID, you’re only looking for one or two targets - easy for a PCR instrument, bur for cancer screening you need to look for thousands of targets.”
Pleno has already shown proof of concept for its hypercoding instrument platform. With the latest funding round, the company plans on rapidly growing its team as it prepares to further develop the instrument into a commercial product.
“We believe [our technology] has the potential to democratize clinical multi-omics and ultimately transform human health,” van Rooyen said.
CEO: Pieter van Rooyen
Headquarters: Sorrento Mesa
Business: Multi-omics instrument platform
Notable: Pleno’s hypercoding technology is based on cellular telephone principles.