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ABQ startup NanoMR wins $21.5M contract

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Albuquerque startup that developed technology to rapidly diagnose infections in blood has won a $21.5 million government contract to adapt its system for use against biothreats.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority wants to use NanoMR Inc.’s technology to build an automated device that could detect biothreat agents such as anthrax in just a few hours.

“We’ll start by targeting anthrax specifically, but BARDA is interested in other biotargets as well,” said NanoMR President and CEO Victor Esch. “We’ll look at more biothreats as the project moves forward.”

The research and development authority, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded the Albuquerque company a three-year contract with $5.9 million in federal funding in the first year. If NanoMR meets required milestones, the contract’s value could grow to a total of $21.5 million.

NanoMR’s technology has demonstrated the ability to detect infections and identify the type of bacteria present in blood in two hours. That compares with the 24 to 27 hours that doctors must wait today for labs to grow cultures.

The company, formed in 2007, originally licensed its technology from the University of New Mexico and from ABQMR Inc., an Albuquerque firm that specializes in magnetic resonance imaging. UNM and ABQMR researchers developed a process to attach tiny magnetic beads to antibodies that imbed themselves in potentially infected cells. The cells are then run through a device to monitor emissions from the beads, allowing lab technicians to isolate and extract the infected cells from blood samples.

Once extracted, technicians can rapidly identify the bacteria present, allowing doctors to begin antibiotic therapies before an infection has entered the bloodstream, which is known as sepsis.

Apart from developing a specific analysis for anthrax and other bioagents, the company will build its diagnostic technology into a fully automated system, Esch said. Its current system is managed manually by technicians.

NanoMR has received  $21 million in venture funding. It employs 22 people at a 19,000-square-foot facility near Jefferson and I-25.