With the ever-growing list of potentially harmful pathogens being discovered, the systems needed to detect different strains need to become more sophisticated as well. Enter LexaGene, a biotechnology company developing automated and sensitive solutions for efficient pathogen detection. LexaGene’s unique microfluidics approach to pathogen detection uses disposable cartridges to analyse the molecular signature of large volumes of samples. While LexaGene is initially targeting the food safety and vet diagnostics industry in the coming years, their technology is transferrable to the clinical diagnostics market. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Jack Regan, the founder and CEO of LexaGene, about the company’s vision and their first product, the LX6 analyser.
Rukmani Sridharan, Medgadget: Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you came up with the idea for LexaGene?
Dr. Jack Regan, CEO of LexaGene: I have been involved in the pathogen detection and characterization space for several years. During my PhD, I focused on studying the influenza virus and its replication strategies – from a pathogen detection and pandemic prevention standpoint. I then went onto do my postdoctoral training at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where I focused on developing automated instruments for the detection of respiratory pathogens such as the avian influenza virus and bio-threat agents. I also helped a start-up called QuantaLife, which was a digital PCR maker, go from concept to commercialization. Following this, I joined Bio-Rad where I managed a team of scientists developing tests for pathogens, cancer and neurological disorders. All these experiences helped me towards starting LexaGene.
Medgadget: Can you summarize for our readers how your technology works?
Jack Regan: LexaGene LX6 is the first open access instrument for rapid pathogen detection and characterization. The instrument processes up to 6 samples at a time in an on-demand fashion. It draws a liquid sample into a single use disposable cartridge that has two chambers. The first chamber has a filter to capture bacteria and viruses – a lysis buffer is then passed through this filter to break open the microbial cells and release its genetic content. This genetic content is then passed on to the second membrane where it is processed for real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Using this system, up to 20 different pathogens can be detected from one sample within one hour. Our animated video shows a summary of the technology.
Medgadget: How does your instrument compare with other competitors in the market? How is pathogen detection currently performed for food safety?
Jack Regan: Food safety does not have a low cost, easy to use, large volume instruments currently. One of the biggest advantages of using our system is the greater chance to avoid subsampling error. This happens when a small sample (say 1ml from a 500ml water bottle) is taken for testing, leading to false negatives that could have been detected if larger sample sizes were used. The LX6 can provide sampling of 50 ml or less, which is a 5 times improvement compared to industry standards.
Also, the current standards use a traditional method of pathogen detection. They typically rely on culture of samples which is great because it confirms that the bacteria or viruses are alive, but this takes a long time to process (typically 24-48 hours), which is not suitable especially for the food industry. The LexaGene system allows the food industry to assess whether the food sample is of high risk or low risk. If a sample is labelled as high risk, it can be sent for further testing using the culture method. However, if a sample is low risk, it means that the food has likely not encountered any one of the 20 pathogens that the system tests for, and is likely safe to be sent out for consumption. LexaGene gives the food industry the option of making this choice for themselves. The test can also be used to monitor certain general indicator species that are not harmful but are a good indicator of the cleanliness of the facility.
Medgadget: Your instrument is meant to be open access. How do you think this will help in expanding the number of pathogens being tested? What are some of the other advantages of the LX6 system?
Jack Regan: The most distinguishing feature of our technology is that it is open access, giving the end user the capability to customize the system. We understand that different food processing facilities will have a different panel of pathogens they need to test for, and our system allows for complete customization. We initially offer a range of reagents that are certified by LexaGene. This will also be cost-effective because LexaGene will charge per test run and not per sample run, meaning that the end user will only pay for what they use.
It is also easy to use – a lay person can be taught how to run the samples and analyze the outputs. Other advantages include its compact design, its low carbon footprint, its ability to detect both DNA and RNA pathogens and its fast turnaround time.
Medgadget: What are the plans for the company in the coming years?
Jack Regan: We are currently finalizing the alpha prototype and the beta prototype will be ready for late summer. We hope to ship the beta prototype to customers by late august 2018 with reagents that can be used by both the food industry and for vet diagnostics.
Link: LexaGene homepage…