Without a doubt, materials engineering is the lifeblood of Applied Materials. Applied Materials has a unique ability to form, shape, adjust, analyze, and connect the materials and devices that are critical to advancing the entire semiconductor industry. Today, with the help of materials engineering, new chip designs and system architectures are emerging in the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, artificial intelligence industries, and in other industries, materials engineering is also driving numerous innovations.
Applied Ventures, the venture capital firm of Applied Materials, is applying its materials engineering expertise to partner with start-ups and early-stage companies in various industries, including life sciences. As the world begins to adjust to the “new normal” of the COVID-19 pandemic, the field of life sciences has become increasingly important. Several life science-focused companies invested by Applied Venture Capital are researching non-stop how to use material engineering and imaging technology to help medical staff complete virus detection and treatment, and ultimately achieve the effect of controlling the epidemic. In the fight against the epidemic, the following three companies have made important contributions.
Exo Imaging launches portable ultrasound device to aid in coronavirus diagnosis
Testing patients for the virus to determine whether they have been infected with the virus is a major challenge in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid shortages of hospital beds and test kits, Exo Imaging, Inc. has developed a portable ultrasound device that can be used to detect lung conditions in patients in point-of-care scenarios.
Exo’s ultrasound platform is based on expertise in medical electronics, materials science, semiconductor engineering, and more. It applies thin-film piezoelectric material structures, novel sensor technologies, advanced signal processing and computing techniques, and dramatically reduces imaging costs through economies of scale in semiconductor manufacturing.
The traditional method of detection is to detect suspected symptoms of new coronary pneumonia, such as respiratory problems and inflammation, through X-ray machines or CT scanners to detect patients’ lungs. But the challenge for doctors is that these devices are expensive and require a dedicated space—often an entire room—to operate. In addition, patients need to come into contact with machines, potentially contaminating large areas and imaging equipment, which is not easy to sterilize.
Exo’s ultrasound platform is a small, hand-held device that can remotely and virtually triage patients and is easy to sterilize. Sandeep Akkaraju, president and CEO of the company, said: “Our mission is to make diagnostic-grade medical imaging equipment accessible to every healthcare worker and clinician in the world, fundamentally changing the way in which high-quality medical imaging and therapeutic devices are used. Affordability, availability and accessibility.”
Ontera develops new coronavirus diagnostic platform
Before developing effective treatments, doctors must master fast and accurate tests for the new coronavirus. Ontera, Inc. is developing a molecular diagnostic point-of-care platform that enables diagnosis through the detection of different strains of COVID-19.
These platforms use silicon-based nanopore chips and proprietary biochemical technologies to accurately detect and differentiate between different DNA, RNA and protein molecules. The company’s NanoCounter is the first ready-to-use solid-state nanopore measurement system using prefabricated nanopores, fluid test strips, low-noise amplifiers and advanced control software for the dissolution, measurement and statistics of single molecules. These platforms enable low-cost and rapid construction of sequence libraries and will help researchers speed up the process of experimentation.
Another portable device is the shoebox-sized NanoDetector, an integrated sample-feedback diagnostic tool. It will be the first diagnostic platform to support clinicians in laboratory-quality testing in point-of-care settings, including NAT, serology, and urine testing, with extremely high sensitivity and specificity.
This point-of-care molecular diagnostic platform is scheduled for application validation this fall, and it may be used in the frontline of the fight against the epidemic to detect whether patients are infected with the new coronavirus or common flu, or whether they are infected and have developed antibodies.
Twist Bioscience Helps Diagnose 2019-nCoV and Develop Vaccines and Treatments
Twist Bioscience is developing artificial DNA that it hopes can replace the transportation and use of live virus samples. By developing large quantities of safely processed genetic material, Twist enables researchers to develop diagnostic tools, vaccines and new treatments faster.
Twist’s proprietary, semiconductor-based synthetic DNA manufacturing process requires the miniaturization of the chemicals necessary for DNA synthesis via a high-throughput silicon platform. This can reduce the reaction volume by a million times and increase throughput by a factor of 1000. Up to 9,600 genes can be synthesized on the same full-scale silicon chip, while traditional synthesis methods use 96-well culture plates in the same physical space. A gene can be synthesized.
Twist is also collaborating with the Chinese government, local hospitals, and many institutions around the world to launch a customized next-generation sequencing suite of products specifically designed to detect the new coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2 virus, to enable genotyping , to help identify virus variants that have arisen around the world.
The company’s biopharmaceutical division is developing 2019-nCoV antibody treatments using its proprietary antibody drugs and optimized platforms.
I applaud the companies that Applied Ventures has invested in, and those that are merging materials engineering and medical knowledge in response to the pandemic, and I wish them continued success in the years to come.
About the Author:
Anand Kamannavar is the global head of Applied Ventures, where he manages Applied Materials’ global venture portfolio of more than $300 million in more than 80 companies in 15 countries. He has over two decades of experience in technology, new business development and venture capital, focusing on leading investments in “materials to systems” including semiconductors, artificial intelligence/machine learning, materials, sensors, Industry 4.0, Next-generation displays, optics, life sciences and other high-growth markets. Anand Kamannavar holds an honors MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in electrical and Electronic engineering.
About Applied Materials
Applied Materials (NASDAQ: AMAT), a leader in materials engineering solutions, is behind nearly every new chip and advanced Display produced worldwide. With technologies that can change materials at the atomic level under production-scale conditions, we enable our customers to make it possible. Applied Materials believes that our innovations will drive the future of advanced technology.