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LevitasBio — Providing innovative next-gen solutions for label-free sample processing

LevitasBio — Providing innovative next-gen solutions for label-free sample processing

Cell analysis is a common method used in improving our understanding of intercellular heterogeneity and get an unprecedented resolution to research. Cell culture was developed in the early twentieth century as a method to study the behavior of animal cells in different environments. However, there has been very little to no innovation in this space over the past few decades.

LevitasBio is a biotechnology company whose foundational technology has led to the first steps in empowering cellular analysis through magnetic levitation. We interviewed Martin Pieprzyk, the CEO of LevitasBio, to know more about the company and its cutting-edge technology. Here are a few excerpts of the interview:

Q. How is your innovation transforming cellular analysis?

All cellular analysis workflows require significant sample processing, which currently consume the majority of the experimental time and cost, but have been mostly devoid of revolutionary new technologies. For sample enrichment specifically, conventional methods include manual manipulation, centrifugation, magnetic bead conjugation, flow sorting, and, more recently, FACS (fluorescent activated cell sorting). These current methods are widely used and have been around for decades, but each has its own limitation. For example, samples are subjected to extremely harsh conditions such as high G-force, PSI pressure, or alteration of their biological state due to the use of stains, labels, or markers. These commonly result in apoptosis, low cell viability, low cell recovery, variable subpopulation losses, activation, or cell stress, all of which significantly limit the ability to recapitulate the native biology meant to be studied.

Our technology enables the separation of samples using magnetic levitation, a gentle process that differentiates based on cell density and requires no dyes, labels, markers, or high pressure. As a result, the cell’s natural biological state is preserved, ensuring that the gene expression profile and downstream analysis and results are not impacted. Further, since the cells are gently suspended in optimized buffer, they can be imaged and analyzed, offering the ability to characterize the target sample and make critical downstream decisions.

Q. How is LevitasBio different from other companies in the cellular analysis space?

Our disruptive technology is unique because we offer a label-free sample enrichment solution, the LeviCellTM platform, that removes dead cells and debris while enriching for high-quality, viable cells in just three steps and 20 minutes without the use of labels, dyes, antibodies, or high flow pressure.

Q. How does LevitasBio deliver precision cell enrichment in minutes?

A key application of the LeviCell platform is live cell enrichment, which is the separation and removal of dead cells and debris to yield pure, viable cells that are healthy and maintain a good representation of the starting biological complexity. This process takes less than 20 minutes but can be as fast as five minutes for larger samples.

Q. How can LeviCell help fight COVID-19?

One of the primary targets of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is the alveolar type II cells in bronchial tissue. While ATII cells play a key role in the innate immune response mechanism and prevention of alveoli collapse, this cell type is difficult to work with due to its fragility and susceptibility to fibroblast contamination from primary isolation. Consequently, there are no commercially available methods for effective isolation of ATII cells from primary tissue, and published cases of successful isolation often required highly specialized scientists and equipment. In comparison, the LeviCell system can gently enrich these sensitive ATII cells reproducibly and without the use of labels that can trigger activation.

Q. What is Magnetic Levitation? How is it applied through LeviCell?

Magnetic levitation is our novel approach to cellular analysis. Cells of different types, or states have unique physical properties that respond to a magnetic density field, resulting in unique levitation heights. When paired with our single-use cartridges, the input sample is processed by the LeviCell using magnetic levitation, resulting in two distinct populations that have been analyzed and separated based on their unique physical properties.

Q. Could you tell us about your work that is helping with Cancer research?

A critical need in cancer research is the ability to study cancer cells in their tumor microenvironment. Dissociated tumor cells (DTCs) are often the chosen cell type due to their representation of the original cancer tissue in addition to rich cellular content (tumor, immune, and support cells). However, DTCs are technically challenging to work with, requiring rigorous incubation periods, which leads to low cellular integrity and viability. The LeviCell system can deliver a population of enriched DTCs that are highly viable, free of dead cells and debris, and with original population representation, enabling deeper studies into any desired cell types.

Q. Are industry partnerships important for you?

Absolutely. Very few companies are successful with a “go it alone” mentality. We have already integrated multiple steps of highly fragmented and distributed sample processing and characterization workflow into a single, interconnected protocol based on next-generation technology. We aim to continue working with partners to further integrate and expand capabilities in sample access (such as dissociation, digestion, and buffering reagents that maintain a natural state) as well as characterization (ensuring comprehensive information about the prepared target sample set prior to downstream use). We have several partnerships in this area and will likely continue to expand them going forward. We also actively seek collaborations for alternate applications or use cases for the technology and integrated workflows, especially those targeting cell-based therapeutics and antibody or cell-line development.

Q. Could you tell us about the work culture at LevitasBio?

LevitasBio was founded back in 2017 as a spin-off from Harvard and Stanford Universities. The company has grown substantially over the last four years and now has 35+ employees. Many team members are seasoned veterans in the life sciences and/or diagnostic space who bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise, and passion for what they do. Our aim is to revolutionize the underserved sample processing and characterization space to significantly and progressively empower multiple downstream workflows.

Q. What does the road ahead look like for LevitasBio? What’s next?

The application of our technology towards accelerated discovery or experimentation that was previously impossible is the primary aim for our initial growth stage. Quite simply, our success is measured by the success of our first customers and partners in applying our technology to research. Meanwhile, we continue developing new technologies and system capabilities that will expand the power of our integrated workflows. Additionally, we continue to expand our ability to meet customer needs both upstream (in next-generation reagents and protocols) and downstream (in analytical capabilities meant to characterize prepared samples). Finally, we aim to apply the technology and developed workflows in new, innovative ways that serve an ever-growing breadth of scientific, translational, and eventually clinical applications.

Meet the CEO

Martin Pieprzyk is the CEO of LevitasBio. He is a highly technical life science executive bringing deep knowledge of the Life Science Industry, with extensive experience in single-cell genomics, next-generation sequencing, gene expression, microfluidics, and digital PCR applications. Mr. Pieprzyk is well-versed in company development and funding, from inception through IPO process and public company operations. His combined background and experience position him well to continue leading LevitasBio in the company’s mission to revolutionize cellular analysis.

“Our mission is to advance science and human health by providing researchers with a new and powerful method of cellular analysis.”

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