Fast Forward to the Future of Biomolecule Analysis

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Fast Forward to the Future of Biomolecule Analysis

SMi Systems have an ambitious goal.

Their mission?

To develop and commercialise a high-throughput, super-resolution device that could monitor interactions between therapeutics and their targets at single-molecule resolution.

What is spatial resolution?
Spatial resolution refers to the distance between features that can be reliably distinguished in an image. It refers to the size of the smallest feature that can be detected and displayed in a digital image.

Read the latest paper describing SMi's innovative technology:
What is temporal resolution?
Temporal resolution provides information on the distance of time between the acquisition of two images of the same area. The higher the temporal resolution, the better a sequence of rapid events can be distinguished.

In early studies, the Cambridge-based start-up was able to use pioneering technology in its research instrument to observe millions of molecular interactions at 1.6nm spatial resolution and 500 µs temporal resolution – data that had never previously been viewed with such high precision.

​ SMi’s early research studies offer a unique view of the characteristics of single biomolecules.

The findings suggest that its technology could have the potential to dramatically improve the speed and quality of disease diagnosis and drug discovery.

The Patented Technology
SMi’s patented technology enables the direct observation of molecular interactions in real-time. ​

It allows the direct visualisation of the dynamic interactions between almost any type of biomolecules – such as antibodies or drugs and their targets. ​

What’s more, the unprecedented performance and super-resolution imaging has the potential to revolutionise screening in a wide range of applications.​ ​

But despite their achievements, there were still challenges that needed addressing to demonstrate the strength of their approach.

SMi needed funding and resources to apply their technology and create a commercial instrument capable of informing industrial innovation.

Which is where Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) was able to help.​ ​

Extremely rapid detection – 50 milliseconds (ms) per sample ​

Very high throughput – up to 384 samples processed in minutes

Very high sensitivity – allowing earlier detection​

Low cost per unit test – cheaper than other systems 

Fully-automated system – accessible to a wide range of professionals ​

Multiplexed platform – for the simultaneous detection of several targets​

MDC has worked with SMi since the start-up’s early days, when it had three founders and no employees. ​
MDC and SMi identified an opportunity to support the research and development needed to kick-start SMi’s early commercial prototypes.
Our instinct proved right, as the company has since grown to employ 18 scientists, engineers, data scientists and support staff. ​
Working in partnership with SMi and the University of Cambridge, we were able to secure an Innovate UK grant. ​
This provided SMi with the platform to engage investors and secure additional funding for expansion.​

With the funding in place, SMi began working on its first commercial prototype for the new technology platform. ​

Unlike typical projects where the hardware is built before assays (tests) are developed, this project took a different approach. ​ ​

We used our in-house capabilities, such as super-resolution imaging, to jump-start the development of the sample assays that would run on SMI’s instruments. ​

That gave SMi a head start while the prototype of their innovative device was being developed at the company’s US facility, using a unique configuration of components.​

In July 2022, the prototype instrument was installed in MDC’s start-of-the-art laboratory facilities at Alderley Park, Cheshire. ​ ​

This enabled our team of experts to test the performance of the device on a range of real-world diagnostic challenges. ​ ​

Since then, we have strengthened our partnership with SMi and secured a Biomedical Catalyst (BMC) grant to evaluate the same prototype technology using a new approach to detecting cancer biomarkers. ​

This has the potential to transform their use for routine cancer screening and enable treatment efficacy to be monitored in real-time.​ ​

SMi Systems Technology
Studying the interaction of drug molecules with their target biological system is critical for understanding how medicines work.

SMi has shown that its technology has the potential to increase the throughput, speed and quality of data to give scientists the accurate insights they need for drug discovery and diagnostics. All the while saving time, money and resources – the common barriers for SMEs in drug discovery. ​

SMi is now in a position to demonstrate the commercial applications of its technology in the analysis of biomolecules, small drug molecules and DNA.​
From the initial grant applications to installing the first prototype instrument, MDC and SMi have developed a very strong relationship.

Communication and trust have been crucial in the development of SMi's groundbreaking technology.

Thanks to MDC’s blueprint for commercial success, SMi aims to build on the technology’s capabilities and performance to create increasingly advanced versions of the instrument, opening up more opportunities for new applications.
Dr Andrew Thompson

Chief Executive Officer & Founder

SMi Systems

It has been a pleasure working with MDC as their scientists are pleasant and have a broad range of talents.

Importantly for projects such as this, they openly and professionally exchange ideas with SMi’s scientific team and keep us abreast of their research developments. Not surprisingly, we are therefore looking forward to continuing and growing our close partnerships for the foreseeable future.

Visit the Website
To find out more, about Medicines Discovery Catapult and the impact we could have on your next drug discovery project, explore our website.