Biotech startup Precision Chroma is looking to raise $1.5 million this year to finalise and market its first product before going global. The startup will be based in Christchurch for the next 12 months while it does further research and development (R&D) before its market launch.

University of Canterbury PhD graduate Sean Feast founded Precision Chroma early last year. It is the world’s sole company making 3D printed chromatography columns, offering a unique solution to address bioindustry challenges worldwide.

“We are simplifying the way that biological pharmaceuticals are manufactured,” Feast says. “A lot of people in New Zealand don’t realise we have a biotech industry here in New Zealand, but we are competing on the global stage. We are the only company in the world doing 3D printed chromatography and offering this unique solution to the challenges that the bio-pharmaceutical industry has.”

Chromatography is a process for separating components of a mixture. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, through chromatography columns means that unwanted contaminants can be separated more efficiently, reducing the cost and time in the manufacture of high-value pharmaceuticals.

Although Precision Chroma is still completing R&D from its base at the University of Canterbury, it is attracting strong interest from pharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing organisations worldwide who are looking to access the technology as soon as possible once its world leading R&D is completed.

In 2021 Feast completed his PhD on the development and upscaling of 3D printed chromatography at the university. His supervisor, Professor Conan Fee, is currently a Precision Chroma scientific advisor.

Precision Chroma is also part of Callaghan Innovation’s Technology Incubator programme. The programme works with technology startups that require a significant amount of R&D to get products from an idea out to market.

Bridgewest Ventures, who provided Precision Chroma’s seed funding through the Callaghan Technology Incubation scheme, has been assisting Feast with links to venture capital companies to grow Precision Chroma. Its worldwide biotechnology network has connected Precision Chroma with leading investment firms, both venture capital and possible strategic partners. The current raise will provide funding and expertise, allowing the startup to grow its team and increase its knowledge and skill base beyond the current three staff.

“As well as conducting R&D in Christchurch rather than overseas, Precision Chroma hopes this will lead to making drugs like insulin and mRNA (used in the Covid-19 vaccination) faster.”

“The end goal of the raise is to have our first product that we can sell, and to set up manufacturing and delivering on that first contract. We don’t just want money, we want expertise and assistance in growing the business – that’s a crucial part of it as well,” Feast says.

Feast says he will have to go overseas to manufacture. “As most of the users of our technology are US or Europe based, we don’t want to have to manufacture here and ship to the States – that’s time-consuming. We want to be a global business; we want to be manufacturing in the US or Europe 12 months after our R&D.”

While Feast sees the need to manufacture overseas, he says Precision Chroma has everything it needs right here in New Zealand to get Precision Chroma’s technology out to the market through R&D on its chromatography columns, which needs to be done prior to manufacturing. “Also, we’ve looked to be able to use our columns for immunotherapy, and we’ve just had our first proof of concept data to show that it is possible.”

As well as conducting R&D in Christchurch rather than overseas, Precision Chroma hopes this will lead to making drugs like insulin and mRNA (used in the Covid-19 vaccination) faster – and to get to market quicker.

“We have the expertise and the knowledge to do the work here in New Zealand, and the facilities, so why not?” Feast says. “There’s no benefit in doing research and development in the US. We’ve got a pipeline of great talent coming out of the University of Canterbury that wants to stay in New Zealand – it’s perfect to do here.”

Feast cites our ‘number eight wire mentality’ in New Zealand, where we do more with less, which can lead to effective competition. “I think we can out-compete them [the US] easily with the amount we can do here through the ingenuity we have.”

But ingenuity can’t be relied on to progress a startup, and Feast knows it. He says for Precision Chroma to make a difference it must get a product out into the market. “That’s what the next 12 months is going to be about.”

Story by Dave Crampton

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