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May 18, 2015 Issue

The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information


Novel Fluorescent Dyes for Diagnostics and Imaging Tests


Russell D. Thomas



NIRvana Sciences


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – May 18, 2015


CEOCFO: Mr. Thomas, would you tell us the concept behind NIRvana Sciences?

Mr. Thomas: Nirvana Sciences is commercializing some novel fluorescent dyes from North Carolina State University to create superior diagnostics and imaging tests. These tests can be used for the diagnosis of cancer and infectious diseases and in a variety of other applications. In the life sciences, there is a need to extract more data from each patient sample and one way to do that is with fluorescent dyes that have very narrow spectral properties.


CEOCFO: You mentioned they are novel. How so?

Mr. Thomas: First, they have novel spectral properties in that they have narrow emission bands which means we can fit two or three of our dyes into the emission space where most others can only fit one. Second, many of our base fluorescent dyes do not have a charge so we can dial-in their charge, which is unique compared with most other dyes.


CEOCFO: What was the key to making them smaller and more stable?

Mr. Thomas: This is the crux of our synthetic chemistry platform and it took our cofounders many, many years of chemistry work to develop synthetic versions of these naturally occurring compounds. Over the course of doing this synthesis work and adding some unique structural pieces to the compounds, they were able to develop superior performers to their naturally occurring counter-parts.


CEOCFO: Has the community that uses the dyes been looking for something better?

Mr. Thomas: Companies that we have spoken to in the life sciences understand the multiplex trend and that most dyes have a lot of spectral overlap between each other. Our narrow emission dyes reduce this spectral overlap. It is really a straightforward conversation with companies in this space. When they see the actual spectral attributes of our dyes, they get it.


CEOCFO: Is there any skepticism that it works the way you say?

Mr. Thomas: There are always individuals who have a difference of opinion no matter what type of early-stage technology you are commercializing. There are others who have worked on these types of dyes and the synthetic chemistry is not easy. Our very smart scientists have solved a very difficult problem. NIRvana Sciences is an early stage technology company with technology risk so people will be a little skeptical until you show proven success and that is natural in the world of technology commercialization.


CEOCFO: Where are you in the development and commercialization process?

Mr. Thomas: We are taking our hydrophobic dyes and making them water soluble and conjugatable, which means we can attach them to different types of biological material. We are in the process of building our product portfolio for our entry market, which has a significant research and clinical diagnostics applications. We also have a couple of very good secondary market applications. Together with our strategic partners, we will determine when our dyes hit the commercial market.


CEOCFO: Would a company order a whole batch?

Mr. Thomas: Our expectation is to develop the dyes, develop the conjugation protocol and then sell bulk dye to larger companies who would then take those dyes and integrate them into their line of reagents to sell and distribute worldwide.


CEOCFO: What do you need to produce the dyes?

Mr. Thomas: There are two types of infrastructure that are needed - a synthetic chemistry lab and a conjugation lab. For what we are doing, the lab setup is in the $200 to $400 thousand range.


CEOCFO: What are some of the results that people would get using your dyes?

Mr. Thomas: For example, researchers working in the area of HIV want to have a more holistic understanding of the body’s immune system. By having additional dyes that they can use to do more complex assays, they can gain a better understanding of the body’s immune response to different drugs used to combat HIV.


CEOCFO: Often when there is a disruptive technology or new way of doing things the entrenched industry pushes back. How do you prepare for the fact that you would be changing the paradigm?

Mr. Thomas: First, an early stage company changing the paradigm is extremely difficult – that takes time and a lot of money. For us, our dyes will advance the performance of existing systems in existing markets. For NIRvana to be successful, it comes down to making sure we are working with good strategic partners who have an interest and a desire to lead the change within their industry. Our new dyes must align well with their strategic growth targets within their various different market segments. If you have that, then things are in order.


CEOCFO: What is the regulatory atmosphere?

Mr. Thomas: NIRvana Sciences will be focused on research reagents and therefore, it is a straightforward commercialization path unlike in vivo clinical applications where expensive, time intensive human trials are required. Our activities are focused purely on non-clinical applications at this time.


CEOCFO: Do you have the necessary funding for the next steps?

Mr. Thomas: Yes, we do. We have conducted a close on our Series-A, and we are doing some add-ons associated with that so we have funding for the next set of milestones.


CEOCFO: This is not your first venture. What did you learn in previous enterprises that has been helpful as you have grown NIRvana?

Mr. Thomas: Probably the most helpful learning from this being my second venture was if you are going to do an entrepreneurial enterprise, you need to do it full-time. You have to do it to move the company ahead in an accelerated fashion. The second thing is that building the right team is absolutely critical in developing the commercialization strategy and providing the necessary insight to effectively raise the resources and develop the technology for a successful commercialization path.


CEOCFO: What has changed in your approach so far?

Mr. Thomas: I have learned to be more patient. R&D is not a linear activity. It has times where it has gone very well and very fast and sometimes, it is a little bit of slogging. Just be patient, do not get too high during the good times and do not get too low during the bad times. Just keep an even-keel and if you do that, it just makes your time leading the company more fun.


CEOCFO: Why pay attention to NIRvana Sciences today?

Mr. Thomas: NIRvana Sciences is developing fluorescent dyes that will improve diagnostics and imaging tests that will actually have a positive impact on our health - whether it is advancing cancer or HIV research or enabling pharmaceutical researchers to develop better performing drugs. We are a platform technology that will aid many very positive healthcare outcomes.


CEOCFO: Final thoughts?

Mr. Thomas: I would encourage individuals that if they are thinking about starting a company to get serious about it and either decide to pull the trigger and do it, or not.


“NIRvana Sciences is developing fluorescent dyes that will improve diagnostics and imaging tests that will actually have a positive impact on our health - whether it is advancing cancer or HIV research or enabling pharmaceutical researchers to develop better performing drugs.” - Russell D. Thomas


NIRvana Sciences


Russell D. Thomas








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