CHADDS FORD — Burgeoning startups in the Bay Area and high-tech labs in Boston probably jump to mind when people think of biotechnology innovation. But one company is shaking up the health care industry right here in Chester County.
MOBILion Systems, Inc. is using Structures for Lossless Ion Manipulation (SLIM) technology to “accelerate the analysis of clinically significant molecules to ultimately improve how our customers predict, diagnose, and treat disease,” said CEO Melissa Sherman, who has a doctorate in polymer science.
MOBILion’s instruments allow its users to identify molecules that indicate disease or are relevant in drug development that other similar technologies do not have the power to see. “It’s fast, it’s efficient, and it’s high-powered from a resolution perspective, so we say we reveal what others leave unseen,” said Sherman.
Sherman has headed up this project since day one. Since 2015, she has built the company from scratch with technology licensed from a federal laboratory. She is responsible for securing funding, hiring a team, and moving this groundbreaking technology from a laboratory into the market.
The ultimate goal of MOBILion is to commercialize SLIM technology for customers including diagnostics companies, pharmaceutical companies, and research labs. The company hopes to create “products that are manufacturable, scalable, and usable by mass customers,” said Sherman.
SLIM technology is already being used in COVID-19 vaccine development. “Researchers are learning that the structure and the composition of the glycoproteins on the spikes dictate how the virus works and ultimately dictate and inform vaccine developers and drug developers,” Sherman said.
These glycoprotein spikes are the protrusions on the surface of the coronavirus particle. These structures help the virus both enter the body and defend itself against its host’s immune system, according to Sherman. These small and complex structures are better analyzed with high-powered SLIM technology.
Sherman compares SLIM to other technologies on the market using the analogy of a microscope: “Think of the lab microscope you maybe have in high school science class versus the Hubble telescope.”
SLIM is not actually a microscope, though. Rather, it is a separator, which allows Sherman’s team to pull apart molecules to better detect and analyze them. “We have the highest powered separations,” said Sherman, meaning that MOBILion has the capacity to see details that are all but invisible with instruments currently on the market.
The technology’s high-powered and high-resolution capabilities give MOBILion the potential to change the game in the health care industry. For instance, in the development of new cancer therapies, SLIM helps pharmaceutical companies characterize the proteins that they create and use in their treatments. “We help pharmaceutical customers better characterize their biotherapeutics so they’re safer, more effective, and get to market faster,” said Sherman.
Despite MOBILion’s potential, its mass market success is not guaranteed. It faces a number of hurdles before it reaches that point, including in securing funding. As a startup, MOBILion relies on the investments of venture capitalists, and as CEO, it is Sherman’s job to pitch her company in a process she compares to Shark Tank.
In its Series A or first round of financing, MOBILion secured $15.4 million of funding from the venture capital arm of Agilent Technologies, a public company that develops and manufactures laboratory instruments. The company is still seeking investments and is currently in its Series B round of financing.
Though it seems like an unlikely destination for a startup, Sherman did not choose to headquarter MOBILion in Chadds Ford by accident. Chadds Ford offers a unique proximity to emerging life science companies in the Greater Philadelphia area, as well as the established pharmaceutical companies in both Wilmington and Philadelphia, said Sherman.
She added that MOBILion “has a pretty aggressive growth outlook.” The team has already grown from just Sherman to 27 members and is still looking to hire more. “We’re bringing people from other parts of the country into this area and adding to the growth of the community as a whole,” said Sherman of her company’s presence in Chadds Ford.
As for the future of MOBILion, Sherman said she has “big dreams.” She hopes to make a global impact in the healthcare industry, and she believes her company has the power to do so with SLIM.
Said Sherman: “For us to be able to be in this little, small town — not San Francisco, not Boston — and be able to contribute to the healthcare industry and have a huge impact on health care, we’re really proud of that.”