Irish firm leads war on disease with x-ray microscope

Tony McEnroe: CEO of SiriusXT.

A Dublin start-up’s x-ray microscope will prove a powerful tool for medicine globally, writes Trish Dromey

DUBLIN start-up SiriusXT is in the final stages of developing an innovative new X-ray microscope which is expected to prove a powerful tool in the global war against disease.

Set for commercial release at the end of next year, the patented SXT-100 utilises a light source which allows researchers to illuminate cells and tissue sample and to produce 3D images in a way which was not previously possible in a laboratory setting.

“We are targeting an addressable global market of €1bn and have identified 3,000 research organisations around the world which we can sell to,” said chief executive Tony McEnroe, one of SiriusXT’s four co-founders.

The potential users of SXT-100 include cancer researchers, scientists who are studying degenerative diseases — such as Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s — and pharmaceutical companies which can use the high resolution 3D cell images to observe the efficacy of drugs.

Mr McEnroe said that this microscope is unique because of the manner in which the X-ray illumination is generated.

“It focuses a powerful laser onto a metal target to make a little fireball as hot as the centre of the sun and about a tenth of the width of a human hair in diameter, from which the x-rays are released.”

He said that up until now this type of light source could only be created in football stadium-sized facilities which cost over €250m.

Because there are just four of these facilities in the world — called synchrotrons — which generate the X-rays used in the microscope researchers have only had very limited access to them.

“What we have done is taken a facility the size of Croke Park and shrunk in into to a small chamber which fits on a desktop in a lab.

“This will make the technology much more accessible.”

Mr McEnroe believes that the wider availability of a research tool which creates high-resolution images of biological cells will help researchers get a better understanding of the causes of cancer and other illnesses and will also help pharmaceutical companies to create effective cures for a range of diseases.

SiriusXT is a spin-out company from UCD and was set up in 2015 by Dr Fergal O’Reilly, Dr Kenneth Fahy and Dr Paul Sheridan; researchers who had spent eight years developing the technology, as well as Mr McEnroe, who previously served as chief executive of both MPSTOR and Farran Technology in Cork.

Setting up on campus with a staff of two that October, SiriusXT signed a licence agreement with UCD the following month.

In December — just two months after it was set up — the company won InterTrade Ireland’s 2015 Best Early Start-Up Company award.

In January 2016 Mr McEnroe closed a funding round for €1.5m with two venture capitalists and some private investors and the following month SiriusXT was identified by Enterprise Ireland as a High Potential Start-Up.

In August last year the company secured a €3 million grant from the EU under the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument Programme — which brought the total amount of funding raised up to €5 million.

The company has spent the last 12 months building its first prototype microscope and according to Mr McEnroe is now on track to produce the first cryo 3D images of biological cells by September.

In January next year the company plans to being pilot testing the SXT 100 in a small number of research centres, with a view to launching on the market in the third quarter of 2018.

The funding raised last year has already been used to recruit scientists and engineers.

“We now have a staff of 14 and expect to take on two or three more this year to help complete the team,’’ said Mr McEnroe.

Expecting the technology to be quickly adopted by research centres around the world, he believes the sales potential of SXT-100 is vast.

“There is no reason why this cannot be a globally successful business based in Ireland, with a turnover of hundreds of millions of euros.

It is possible that the company may be bought out, but the strategy right now is to build SiriusXT into a global business.”


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