May 5, 2003 -- One of the most frustrating problems for doctors who prescribe medicine is determining the effective dosage. A dose that barely has an effect on one patient's symptoms could be dangerously toxic for another. Anthony Guiseppi-Elie, president and scientific director of Abtech Scientific Inc., hopes to solve this problem.
"As a quality-of-life-issue," said Guiseppi-Elie, "it is important that the drug you receive be at the appropriate dose for your proper therapeutic response. This is not easily revealed in the way drugs are currently developed and brought to market."
Based in Richmond, Va., Abtech uses a variety of different biochip technologies to develop diagnostic equipment for doctors' offices, hospitals, pathology laboratories and biomedical research institutions. Specializing in applications linked to therapeutics, Abtech also manufactures, markets, and sells tools and devices for biosensor and biochip research and development.
Abtech's core technology uses what's called "interdigitated" microelectrodes, which are arrays of microscopic electrodes made from metal sputtered into patterns onto a substrate. The electrodes are treated with a conductive material that acts as a sensor agent. Abtech's top product is a microlithographically fabricated chip used to contain a material that can detect biological substances.
The company also makes a variety of biodetection instruments, including an on-site chemical toxicity sensor for testing wastewater, a system that monitors certain chemicals in found in the breath of patients (important in monitoring diseases) and a workstation that uses biosensors to monitor blood metabolites, therapeutic drugs and microbiological agents.
Future products will include a line of microfluidic whole-cell biosensors that can detect toxins, scheduled for release in August 2003.
"Researchers who are interested in sensor applications should find that Abtech is a convenient source for providing a simpler solution to the needs of interdigitated electrodes," said Alexander DeQuan Li, an associate professor of chemistry in the materials science program at Washington State University who has used Abtech's equipment in his research. "Abtech fills a niche market by providing interdigitated patterns of independently addressable electrodes. These electrodes can be used in cell mobility testing, electrochromatography, and electrical impedance and capacitance measurements."
The company's roots go back to 1987, when Guiseppi-Elie -- who also serves as the director of the Center for Bioelectronics, Biosensors and Biochips at Virginia Commonwealth University -- started a consulting company and, in 1990, a technology development company.
"Through my due diligence … it became apparent that the two major juggernauts of technology -- microelectronics and biotechnology -- must create some technological and market turbulence at their interface," he said.
"We identified diagnostic biosensors and diagnostic biochips as appropriate targets that embrace the benefits and excess capacities of the biotechnology and microelectronics sectors."
Basing its research and proprietary products, Abtech depends on small tech for everything it does. The chips use nanoparticles for enhanced detection, and chemicals that can coat a chip's surface to a depth of a single molecule.
"They've been a unique company that's adapted different electrode configurations to the conducting polymer technology to make MEMS and other devices as well," said Matt Aldissi, of the polymer research company Fractal Systems Inc. in Safety Harbor, Fla. "We use their electrodes here and get good results from them."
As far as an exit strategy, Guiseppi-Elie is gunning for an IPO. "We anticipate that our company may be acquired by a 'major' within the next five years or so, although this does not drive our day-to-day thinking," he said.
Company file: Abtech Scientific Inc.
(last updated May 5, 2003)
Abtech Scientific Inc.
911 East Leigh Street
Richmond, Va., 23219
Abtech was incorporated in 1995 and draws on technologies and patents developed by Anthony Guiseppi-Elie prior to and during his work on biochips and biosensors at Virginia Commonwealth University (where he remains a chemical engineering professor and director of the Center for Bioelectronics, Biosensors and Biochips). The company moved to its current location at the Virginia Biotechnology Center in 1999.
Small tech-related products and services
Abtech is developing a product line of instruments and tests for use in diagnostics applications. They use microlithographic chip technology to build biosensors, immunosensors, genosensors electrodes and testing systems. Physicians, emergency care professionals and lab pathologists benefit from this point-of-care technology.
Anthony Guiseppi-Elie: president and scientific officer
Sheldon P. Wesson: principal scientist
James R. Funkey: vice president and chief financial officer
Ann M. Wilson: manager of applications development
Fractal Systems Inc.
Selected research partners
Pennsylvania State University
University of Pennsylvania
University of South Carolina
VCU and Medical College of Virginia
University of the West Indies
Barriers to market
Abtech is working in an extremely crowded niche where lack of equipment standardization and manufacturing challenges are creating a product bottleneck.
BioForce Nanosciences Inc.
Tm Bioscience Corp.
What keeps them up at night
"Nothing. I sleep very well. Rather than worry, I do," said Anthony Guiseppi-Elie, the company's president. Principal concern: Market entry strategy."
Chemical and biological sensors
Surface functionalized and derivatized electroactive polymers
Method of measuring an analyte
Surface functionalized Langmuir-Blodgett films
-- Research by Gretchen McNeely