DeNova Sciences Pte Ltd, a spin-off company from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore was founded in December 2012.
It was founded by Chong Han Chung, Kelvin (CTO, PhD- Specialized in molecular biology analysis), Tan Ming Jie (MJ) (COO, MSc-Specialized in invitro skin modeling) and Daniel Tan (CEO, BSc-Business Development). The company’s scientific advisor is Asst Prof Tan Nguan Soon, Andrew, Assistant Professor from School of Biological Sciences, NTU. DeNova Sciences is currently located at NTU Innovation Centre, Singapore. We, at biotechin.asia sat down with the founders and had a chat about their startup and the services they offer.
“DeNova Sciences, the one stop solution for all your Dermatological testing requirements.”
How and when did Denova Sciences come about?
DeNova Sciences Pte Ltd was founded in December 2012 and is a collaborative entrepreneurial effort between three students of the School of Biological Sciences and School of Material Sciences from NTU.
MJ: We founded the company in December 2012, however, Kelvin and I officially started full time work only last year. Until then, Daniel was setting up the company and applying for funding and grants. During Kelvin’s PhD and my Masters program at NTU, we both worked on artificial skin models and tissue scaffolds.
Kelvin: We noticed that many researchers wanted to collaborate with us, on these models for their own use. This sparked a thought in our minds as to why not commercialize the product that we have developed. That is when we met Daniel and decided to launch DeNova Science Pte Ltd.
MJ: We wanted the artificial skin model to be available to researchers and companies directly. DeNova Sciences provides a skin platform to test products, formulations and active ingredients.
What is the technology used by Denova Sciences? And what are the services offered by Denova Sciences?
We provide the best range of artificial skin model as well as tissue scaffolding suitable for rigorous clinical testing. Our skin model is 3D. The services we offer include product testing, validation and co-development using our proprietary range of in vitro DNSkin™ models.
We have an artificial skin model that is very similar to live human skin. Our model has keratinocyte and fibroblast layer which in just two weeks undergoes stratification to form skin, which mimics out human skin. Using this stratified skin, we can do cosmetic testing or drug testing.
The way we test if our skin model is as good as human skin is by looking at the differentiation markers that are expressed in skin. We do side by side comparisons of the artificial skin that we develop in the lab.
Apart from these services, we also offer basic histology services and microarray services to researchers. We offer Laser Capture Microdissection services for collection of selected region prior to microarray service and we also provide images of processed tissues. Our full array of services includes Total RNA isolation, cDNA amplification, fragmentation and labeling, hybridization to microarray chips, signal detection and data analysis including. We offer various packages for services as specified in our website.
We offer an array of other services including absorption and penetration assessment, vitality and regeneration analysis, toxicity assays, redox stress assessment, moisture content analysis, shelf life assessment, porosity analysis and add-on services like genetic analysis, lipid profiling, metabolic profiling and scar profiling.
What are the layers present in human skin and does your skin model incorporate all of them?
Human skin is primarily made up of keratinocytes and fibroblasts; which is what our skin model is made up of. Other companies do offer artificial skin models for cosmetic and drug testing, but those only have the first layer of skin (keratinocytes). We can incorporate melanocytes to make a pigmented skin model as well. We do absorption and penetration assessment to test compound/drug penetration into the various layers of skin.
What is The DNSkin and what is unique about it?
The DNSkin™ models (our proprietary technology) are carefully cultured skin cells in a serum-free environment with our chemically-defined DNMedia™ formulated for optimal growth. The DNSkin™ Origin is an in vitro full thickness human skin model and closely resembles the native human skin. This model consists of a superficial epidermis layer whereby keratinocytes reside on a fibroblast-collagen dermal matrix and form a stratified epidermal layer. Importantly, this model retains the paracrine relationship between the keratinocytes and fibroblasts which are crucial for skin homeostasis and development. Moreover, DNSkin™ Origin which can be maintained in vitro for up to 3 months (or more) makes long term/interaction studies a viable option.
Do you do allergy tests for skin using your models?
No, not yet, but it is part of our future plans. Allergy testing requires immune cells to be incorporated into our model for which a lot of work needs to be put in and the source of the immune cells needs to be from the same person.
The most talked about technology now is 3D bioprinting. Recent news talks about 3D bioprinted skin. How different is that model compared to yours?
Yes, skin can be 3D bioprinted but the main issue is to assemble the different layers of skin once printed. It is very hard to “stick” each skin layer to one another to provide a successful artificial model. Also, all the layers of skin should be “well” differentiated into the correct cell types. In our case, since it is in vitro, it is not a problem.
How does your business model work? Who are the customers of DeNova Sciences?
Our customers are MNCs, other companies and also research labs. Once we are contacted by MNCs and other companies, we offer them a cheaper option first- of pilot testing our skin. Based on their feedback, we further customize the model for them to take on full contract services. We have to build our credibility and that’s the way we attract customers. Even though the entire testing period requires about a year or so, we are sure that the product we send out is worth the money spent by the customer.
For research labs, we even design experiments according to their needs and provide them a quotation for the service accordingly. We make sure that the data/results we provide the researcher is in “publication/journal” style, so it makes life easier for the scientist when he/she wants to publish the data. Quicker results!
How is DeNova Sciences funded?
We started off with the ACE Startups Grant that funded us for about a year. As of now, we have applied for multiple grants and awaiting the outcome.
Last year, we presented at TechVenture and this year we are looking forward to TechInnovation.
What are the challenges faced by you as a Biotech startup?
Most of the grants in place are geared towards tech startups, hence getting funding for a biotech startup is quite tough. Also, the basic equipment needed for a biotech company is very expensive and the grants would probably not be enough to cover all our costs.
What are the future directions for DeNova Sciences in terms of science as well as business?
In terms of science, we are looking into using stem cells to generate different cell types and make skin as a whole testing model. We want to market our chemically-defined DNMedia™and also the DNSkin™ model as one package for testing.
Another avenue is allergy testing and generation of aging and wrinkled skin. We are also working on incorporating hair in our skin model. We are looking into collaborations with IBN, A*STAR and others.
In terms of business, we have built a strong foundation in Singapore now and are looking to expand worldwide and offer our model and services to MNCs outside of Singapore as well, mostly within Asia.