SME Spotlight

Big advances through miniaturising processes

A demonstration showing how assays are miniaturised with the DropArray-Bead plate. Curiox Biosystems has developed a system for biomedical research that miniaturises biological assays using cells and proteins.
A demonstration showing how assays are miniaturised with the DropArray-Bead plate. Curiox Biosystems has developed a system for biomedical research that miniaturises biological assays using cells and proteins.PHOTO: YOUTUBE
A demonstration showing how assays are miniaturised with the DropArray-Bead plate. Curiox Biosystems has developed a system for biomedical research that miniaturises biological assays using cells and proteins.
Dr Namyong KimPHOTO: YOUTUBE

The journey from researchlab to selling an innovation is often long and unpredictable. Rennie Whang speaks to Dr Namyong Kim, chief executive of A*Star spin-off Curiox Biosystems, about the ups and downs it encountered.

Q What does Curiox Biosystems do?

A We have developed a system for biomedical research that miniaturises biological assays using cells and proteins.

By reducing the size of the assay used in experiments to find out biological phenomena or develop drugs, scientists need fewer samples and biological reagents. This helps speed up the development process.  Current assays have issues with sensitivity and reproducibility, along with high cost. The DropArray system improves on these parameters.

Q How was the company and its solutions created?

A After studying, and working in the biomedical field in the United States, I went to work for A*Star with the goal of starting a company. I had some ideas I thought I could develop and commercialise.

My colleagues and I worked on a number of promising ideas over a few years, and one of them stood out for commercialisation.

Armed with a prototype of a system, we could secure investment and start a company in Singapore.

The investment and mentorship from Curiox's primary investor Zicom and overall support from government agencies such as Spring and International Enterprise Singapore have been more than fantastic.

CHALLENGING SITUATION

We had a tiny team spread over a long distance and time difference who had to work together every day. Without this hardship, the management and growth of a company would have been easier.

DR NAMYONG KIM, chief executive of A*Star spin-off Curiox Biosystems

Q What role did A*Star play in the development of your company?

A A*Star and its community have been crucial in the development of the company. The A*Star scientists are collaborators, beta testers and customers - their support has been highly beneficial at every stage.

Before we were spun off, Exploit Technologies (ETPL, an A*Star unit) incubated the development of the technology to make it more market-ready, including improving the sensitivity of the platform, developing a prototype and clinical testing.

ETPL also organised networking events that enabled us to meet potential customers and investors.

Q What was it like crossing over from the lab to the business world? What were some of the challenges faced?

A Saying it was an eye-opener is an understatement. It was a learning and humbling experience.

Thanks to excellent mentors like Mr G. L. Sim at Zicom and Professor Alex Matter, chief executive of A*Star's Experimental Therapeutics Centre, along with many others, I could slowly learn.

The biggest challenge was the distance from where we are and where the market is, in the US. We had a tiny team spread over a long distance and time difference who had to work together every day. Without this hardship, the management and growth of the company would have been easier.

Q Describe the company's size, market reach and performance.

A We have fewer than 20 people in our team. There is an office in Singapore with sales coverage throughout Asia, and an office in the US with a growing sales team. We're also planning to set up a small sales office in Europe.

More than half of the 20 biggest biopharma companies are Curiox's customers. We are trying to win over new companies. We also have a number of small and medium-sized biopharmas and academic institutions as our customers.

After many years, we are finally coming to a breakeven point in our operations - our year-on-year revenue growth for the fourth quarter was over 300 per cent.

Q What are your growth plans? 

A We are expanding our direct presence in the US to cover all major pharmaceutical and biotech accounts. We also plan to establish a more direct presence in Europe. We have been expanding our global user list each month.  

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'Big advances through miniaturising processes'. Print Edition | Subscribe