Seraph Biosciences closes on $5 million funding round
Seraph Biosciences Inc., a new company based on technology licensed from Wayne State University, has closed on a funding round of $5 million to continue development of its medical devices.
Seraph’s devices are based on Raman spectroscopy, named for Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1930 for his discovery that when light passes through a transparent material, some light deflects and changes wavelength.
Seraph is testing prototype devices the size of a small piece of luggage that identify pathogens or contaminants by hitting them with laser beams. The company’s database compares the resulting fingerprints of scattered light against a large database of fingerprints it has stored from previous tests conducted by a related company.
Tests can identify a pathogen in 100 milliseconds. Fingerprints available in Seraph’s database include methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), all flu types, rhinovirus, human papillomavirus, E. coli and various staph infections.
Current devices using Raman spectroscopy are the size of a table, which limits their use in the field. Samples taken from a patient must often be cultured for several days, growing enough pathogens for an identification to be made.
Seraph will target the veterinary market first, where it can generate revenue as it goes through the process of getting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use its devices on humans.
The company hopes to have veterinarians enrolled in a pilot program in the first half of next year, to start FDA trials in the second half next year and to submit results for FDA approval in the first half of 2019.
The company has licensed three patents from WSU and has applied for three others.
Seraph was spun out last November from another WSU spinoff, Medical Engineer Partners LLC, which was founded in 2011 to determine what medical needs might be met by sensor-based technologies being developed in professor Greg Auner’s Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems program in the College of Engineering at WSU.
MEP was co-founded by Auner; Charles Shanley, a surgeon and professor at both Wayne State’s medical school and the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine; and Mark Trexler, CEO for more than 20 years of Technical EnviroServices, an environmental consulting firm based in West Bloomfield.
MEP developed Seraph’s technology and created its library of pathogen footprints, then spun it out when the technology was ready for commercialization. MEP will continue to serve as a platform for creating other medical-device companies.
MEP raised its own seed funding of $400,000, including $100,000 from Paul Glantz, co-founder and chairman of Troy-based Emagine Entertainment Inc. Glantz, a member of Seraph’s board of directors, joined in this funding round, which was led by Mike Shields, chairman and CEO of Auburn Hills-based Novation Analytics LLC, a company that provides software, data analysis and advisory services on vehicle energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions.
Last August, Shields sold Allen Park-based Control-Tec LLC, a provider of telematics and analytics software, to Delphi Automotive plc for more than $100 million.
“I’m a venture capital guy and angel investor and heard about Seraph through mutual friends,” said Shields. “The No. 1 thing I look at is the team, and this is a really good team. It’s novel technology, a disruptive technology. I’ve invested in a lot of companies, but I’ve never invested in a company that is going to save lives before.”
Matt Cullen, a principal at Rock Ventures and CEO of M-1Rail, the nonprofit that organized and financed the newly operational QLine in Detroit, is also an investor and a member of Seraph’s board of directors.
“Obviously, this is a very impressive technology that properly validated and deployed would have a profound impact on keeping people healthy and helping those with illnesses become healthy again,” said Cullen. “It’s a great blend of medical, technical, business and marketing talent, and a commitment to grow and develop in the city of Detroit. Checks a lot of boxes for me.”
Auner is Seraph’s chief science officer; Shanley is chairman; his brother, Jim, formerly an executive director of business development at the advertising firm of Grace & Wild Inc., is CEO; Bradon Robison, the former senior director of business development and strategy at Kalamazoo-based Stryker Corp. and then a mentor in residence in the tech transfer office at the University of Michigan, is COO; Robert Gougelet, the longtime vice chairman of the National Advisory Council of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will serve as Seraph’s liaison with various federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the Naval Research Laboratory, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.
Seraph has engaged Regulatory Affairs Associates LLC of West Bloomfield to help guide it through the FDA approval process. Regulatory Affairs’ founder and president, Steven Goldner, is a toxicologist and lawyer who invented the drug methadone and has 40 years of experience as a regulatory expert.
In March, Seraph opened an office in the WeWork co-working and incubator space in the Bedrock Building in downtown Detroit. It employs four there and five in Auner’s lab at WSU.