The most difficult aspect of therapeutic RNA and RNA at-home testing is transport. RNA is a fragile molecule and most living organisms try to destroy free RNA because they think it’s a virus. Even if it’s not destroyed in this way, RNA falls apart on its own in a few days.
Life Magnetics, Inc. has solved a key problem with COVID-19 vaccine distribution, the need for cold storage.
Despite these limitations, the promise of RNA At-Home testing and therapeutic RNA cannot be ignored. Some experts estimate that by 2040, 60% of all drugs may be RNA drugs. RNA diagnostics aren’t just limited to detecting viruses like COVID-19, it’s also one of the best ways to detect cancer and a range of other conditions. Remember how DNA sequencing was a big deal in the early 2000’s? RNA sequencing is a super-charged version of DNA sequencing. It yields data sets that are 20x larger than DNA sequencing and RNA diagnostics are usually more informative for diagnostic applications.
Dr. Kevin Hagedorn and Dr. Rishabh Kala set out to solve the problem with RNA shipping and storage using a mechanism unique to carbon surfaces. “There is a particular interaction called pi-pi stacking, which is strictly quantum mechanical in nature, so it’s a bit difficult to describe. However, what makes it unique is that it requires the nucleic acids to adopt a particular conformation and bind tightly to the carbon surface,” says Kevin. “This makes it difficult for the bound RNA to be attacked and helps stabilize it. Attaching and releasing RNA from the carbon surface uses Calcium, a milk additive, and EDTA, a common food preservative so the process is safe and scalable.”
Dr. Hagedorn continues: “We’re currently selling the product to university labs and working on securing larger contracts. We’re working with Central Michigan University to simplify wastewater testing for COVID-19. This is an application where the longer you transport the sample the more RNA you lose which makes it difficult to say how many people in a community have COVID-19. If you can stabilize the sample once it’s collected you monitor individual communities with far higher accuracy and sensitivity.”
Another related application we’re working on is at-home RNA urine testing. There are a range of conditions from prostate cancer to kidney transplant rejection that you can detect from the RNA in urine samples, by providing a simple method to collect and stabilize samples we can expand at-home testing which improves patient adherence and reduces costs. It’s also been a huge hit in the healthcare space, Exact Sciences is doing very well with their at-home colon cancer screening kit.”
Life Magnetics, Inc. has raised $1.3M. Local angel groups including Blue Water Angels and Birmingham Angels invested $445,563 and $140,000, respectively. Additionally, they have also raised $660k from more than 270 investors in Michigan in a regulation crowdfunding campaign. The company has also received two awards from the National Science Foundation which totaled $403,500 along with matches from the State of Michigan Emerging Technology Fund totaling $50,000. They developed the product in collaboration with Wayne State University and Central Michigan University and received $37,500 in state funding from the MEDC First Customer program and Business Accelerator Fund (BAF)
The company only pitched at one or two events in Michigan. “Most Michigan groups said we were ‘too technical’ to present at their events. We did most of our pitches in California or Boston. That all changed with COVID-19 of course because suddenly everyone understands how important RNA technology is and the huge problem that logistics is for RNA technology. For a solid week, every news article was about the -80C freezers needed for vaccine distribution. Our pitch didn’t change, the world changed. We went from people telling us this wasn’t a market to it being a literal national emergency two years later and now we can point and say, ‘this is why it’s necessary to have experts reviewing deep tech companies.’ These problems with vaccine distribution and RNA At-home testing didn’t surprise any experts.”
Each new product the company has developed has gotten them closer to this goal. “The big application is room temperature RNA therapeutics. We don’t have the funding to go straight after those applications though, so we’re checking off easier applications to de-risk the technology for investors and generate early revenue. The first step was purification, which just required binding and release of RNA. However, it’s a common problem in labs. All biology labs that do RNA work need purification products. Now we’re on to at-home and environmental testing, which requires shipping. We’re starting to develop collaborations in synthetic RNA manufacturing and RNA drug delivery. Our research projects include making the carbon bio-absorbable so the particles don’t linger in the body.”
The long term goal of Life Magnetics is delivery of RNA therapeutics. “Vaccines were the ideal first application for RNA therapeutics because you only take them once. One investor once asked, ‘what about drugs you take every day, we can’t have a -80C freezer in everyone’s house.’ That’s exactly the problem. For RNA technology to really take off there needs to be a way to deliver room temperature RNA therapeutics.”
Kevin graduated from the University of Michigan where he received a Doctor of Philosophy in Materials Chemistry with a focus on Semiconductor Surface Chemistry. In 2015, Kevin started Life Magnetics, Inc. with Saravana Murthy. Kevin developed the manufacturing method used to create Life Magnetics’ products and currently oversees manufacturing and business development. Kevin also has five peer-reviewed publications, and seven issued patents.