Back in 2018, fresh out of university with little money to continue their work discovering a more efficient way of unlocking the secrets of proteins, Ruizhi Wang and Christoph von Bieberstein were sharing a desk and working in a lab out of hours when it was cheaper.
They were working on a shared project, which had the potential to revolutionise the study of proteins, unaware their endeavours were about to be recognised.
“HexagonFab’s technology will accelerate the drug development process, leading to better and safer drugs in the future,” said Dr Wang, founder and engineering director of HexagonFab, who is leading the development of the product.
“Our goal is to give researchers and production teams involved in the development of novel medicines faster and easier ways to understand the behaviour of the compounds.”
The same year they formed their company, HexagonFab won the Enabling Technologies category at the Royal Society of Chemistry’s prestigious Emerging Technologies Competition.
The prize money and ongoing support they received through The Royal Society of Chemistry’s EnterprisePlus programme significantly accelerated their business plan and they now plan to launch a ground-breaking product later this year or early 2022.
Called Bolt, the device offers biopharmaceutical researchers the ability to characterise proteins and understand biomolecular interactions more quickly – offering results within hours rather than weeks – and more affordably.
It eliminates risk, delays, and costly mistakes in the discovery and production stages, which means researchers can bring new medicines to the market substantially faster and with fewer errors.
Dr Wang began work on the project while studying his PhD in electrical and electronics engineering at the University of Cambridge and is a founder and engineering director of the company.
“During my PhD, I worked on the tech behind it and always felt it was important that research has an impact on life and society,” he said.
“It helps people solve problems, even if it just makes peoples’ lives in labs slightly easier. We developed a platform to help researchers speed up the development of new drugs.
“They don’t have to spend lots of money or have big complex equipment as this is a small and compact smart system that means they can test on their benchtops.
“The competition came at the very early stages of start-up and supported us realising our ideas. The award money helped us develop it and the recognition helped show people it is not just us that believes in it.”
After winning, the company built the prototype which has been through rigorous testing and is now in the feasibility study stage.
Dr Wang said things have moved fast since the competition and the Cambridge-based company now employs nine people, including recruiting through the Royal Society of Chemistry’s internship programme.
He said anyone with a project should enter the competition as it is an opportunity to showcase their work and expand their network.
“The competition was important to present the project to such an amazing audience,” he said. “It was a really amazing opportunity to meet people in the industry from start-ups to industry partners. This is still very useful to this day.
“Feedback from judges is great and the interaction with representatives of the industry to look at what aspects of the project were really important. It would be silly not to do it.”
HexagonFab is a spin-off company of the Department of Engineering of the University of Cambridge. Currently, Dr Wang and his team are based in the Cambridge Science Park.
From the 120 high-quality applications, the 24 shortlisted companies will pitch their plans to a highly experienced judging panel at the end of June.
If they win, they not only get £20,000 prize money, but a year of one-on-one support from a specially assigned Royal Society of Chemistry mentor, and a further £20,000 available as a business acceleration grant.
For more details about the competition and to register for the audience for the final pitch event, visit the website.