In 1988, before several terrorist biowarfare attacks shook the world, Kalle Levon, a Poly professor in charge of Bioinformatics, with the grad students in his Organic Electronics Lab, received government sponsorship to develop sensors capable of detecting biowarfare agents—chemical weapons such as anthrax.
Levon, a professor of Chemical and Biological Sciences, had long worked on conducting polymers, plastics that conduct electricity. His team began building a prototype biosensor, together with then-Poly Professor Arifur Rahman, whose specialty was vertical transistor design. The prototype was so promising, in 2004, Levon founded Anzenna to commercialize it. But the researchers were busy innovating and it didn’t take off just then.
Fast forward to 2008, and the company was reinvigorated, explains Samir Ajmera, vice president of business development. Anzenna added two employees, several part-time staff, plus a team of interns and graduate researchers, and moved away from the defense market. Instead, the focus shifted to building diagnostic tests for the billion-dollar healthcare market.
“The transistor-based biosensor design is very unique. We have several patents on its structure and specific function,” explains Ajmera. Though Anzenna hasn’t yet sold a product, it has exclusively licensed six patents from NYU and is developing more advanced prototypes. Funding so far has come from institutional grants (federal, state, medical), not venture capitalists or private investors, but the plan is to raise private capital in mid-2011. After clinical trials, a product could be in doctors’ hands around 2013.
For now, Anzenna’s headquarters are both at the State University of New York Downstate Advanced Biotech Incubator and in Levon’s lab at NYU-Poly. Along with healthcare, Anzenna’s tech- nology may also, one day, also have applications in genomic sequencing, agriculture and environmental testing.