Students launch world’s largest e-commerce platform for single stranded DNA molecules

Students from the University of Cambridge have set up the world’s largest e-commerce platform for single stranded DNA which they believe have enormous potential for contributing to therapeutic treatments.

Aptamers can recognise the kind of subtle mutations that take place in, for instance, cancer cells and can therefore be used as diagnostic tools and to inhibit certain malfunctioning proteins, leading to new therapeutic treatments.
  –  Bo Shiun Lai

Gates Cambridge Scholar Bo Shiun Lai and his labmate Yang Zhang set up AptaCam, the world’s largest oligonucleotide eCommerce platform, last year. The company was incorporated in Hong Kong late last year and in the UK last month. It has already been awarded £72,000 by the Hong Kong government and has recently been named a Top 10 innovative business idea by the Innovative Forum, which seeks to build bridges between academia industry and policy makers.

“Our e-commerce platform is about providing scientists the most up-to-date and detailed information on oligonucleotides alongside the actual physical product,” says Yang. “Oligonucleotides have been widely used in facilitating discoveries in basic research, ensuring food safety, monitoring the environment, and they also play promising roles as clinical diagnostics and therapeutic agents.”

Yang and Bo have been trawling through tens of thousands of papers published on oligonucleotide molecules or aptamers, single stranded DNA or RNA (ssDNA or ssRNA) molecules that can bind to pre-selected targets including proteins and peptides with high affinity and specificity. They have been uploading the DNA sequences individually to the website. The patent for aptamer technology expired two years ago, meaning it is now possible to commercialise aptamer research.

Yang, who has just finished his PhD thesis, has been expanding the database and working with Bo on funding. The company’s first grant proposal was to Cyberport, which is part of the Hong Kong Cyberport Management Company. This is wholly owned by the Hong Kong Government. They awarded Bo and Yang £72,000 pounds to set up research facilities in Hong Kong as part of the growing life sciences industry there, meaning they are ideally placed to capitalise on the Chinese market.

Incorporation in the UK means they will be able to access a broader range of funding sources. As Bo is a Taiwanese and Canadian citizen, he has been able to apply to angel investors in Taiwan. He has asked for £200,000 to spend on investing in basic laboratory facilities and technology. The company has a target of £450,000 to raise and are keen to use some of the money to educate the science community about aptamers and their potential.
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