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TechNZ Investment Continues Development of Unique Nanotechnology

Published on May 4, 2009 at 8:17 PM

Investment from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is helping New Zealand nanotechnology company Izon Science forge ahead with research and development (R+D) despite the recession.

The Foundation has approved a $500,000 investment by its TechNZ arm to help Izon – formerly Australo - carry out R&D which will deliver the scientific evidence customers want that the company’s diagnostic and monitoring technology is consistent, predictable and accurate.

“In the current economic climate, where money is particularly tight, the TechNZ funding is very helpful in allowing us to keep growing,” says Izon Science Chairman Hans van der Voorn. “We started 2008 with five staff and ended it with 19, including part-timers and summer students. The TechNZ investment really does make a difference to us and will help us to eventually make a difference to the New Zealand economy.”

Formed in 2005, Izon has developed a portable, low cost, highly effective instrument for accurately identifying, measuring, manipulating and monitoring nanoparticles as they pass through a hole or aperture. Its technology platform, Scanning Ion Occlusion Spectroscopy (SIOS), detects individual particles passing through the hole with one of the first commercial applications being accurate virus measurements.

Beta versions of Izon’s instruments and systems have been sold to researchers in Germany, Netherlands, Japan, Taiwan, Denmark, United Kingdom and Belgium. Each instrument sale is supported by the ongoing supply of the flexible nanopores themselves, which are reusable but need to be regularly replaced.

Mr van der Voorn says Izon has made huge progress in the past three years. The first version of its instrument, which required special grade power supply and an expensive, large scale amplifier set, has been replaced by a robust device the size of a domestic coffee grinder, powered through a USB port and able to detect and control single particles at the nano-scale.

TechNZ Sector Business Manager Lins Kerr says the latest TechNZ investment helps continue development of new technology with potential uses in research markets. “It is important for TechNZ to be investing in niche research areas that have high potential payback, but involve complex technical challenges and a certain level of risk.

“TechNZ has a strong record of investing in successful development of medical devices and the Izon investment, which loosely fits into that sector, will help the company overcome barriers to international sales,” says Mr Kerr. “Medical devices are a key strength for New Zealand – we are adept at producing small, highly valuable pieces of equipment that are wanted in medical biotechnology markets overseas.”

An earlier TechNZ investment of around half a million dollars in Izon Science supported development of the company’s initial invention. Mr van der Voorn says the latest investment will help the company achieve consistent production and sizing of the aperture that particles pass through during testing, and also develop a pressurised system that will allow users to very accurately determine particle concentration in tiny sample volumes of fluid. “The project will expand the body of knowledge about the technology as well as developing some new products including a next generation virus counter and an instrument for nanoparticle analysis.”

Ultimately, says Mr van der Voorn, Izon’s ambition is to have its technology become the gold standard in the measurement of nanoparticles, viruses and biomolecules. To support this it is continuing to make its instruments smaller and lighter with a goal of having them readily available for use in a wide range of research environments including laboratories, clinics and in the field.

Izon has a number of collaborations underway with partners using its technology to break new ground. Researchers at Victoria University, for example, are using it to study the viral load on coral reefs, the National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Disease is carrying out influenza virus research and the National Institute for Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan is researching nanoparticle sizing.

Other New Zealand-based research partners include Industrial Research Limited, the MacDiarmid Institute, the University of Auckland and Cawthron. MIT, University of Queensland, University of California and Oxford University are other partners Izon is working with. Izon’s recent name change is part of a re-branding exercise for the company, says Mr van der Voorn, designed to clear up confusion in the marketplace. “People thought we were an Australian company which is not necessarily a useful look when you are trying to do deals. We are proud Kiwis with a strong national tradition behind us and we needed to remove confusion to make that work for us.”

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