Tian Hui: Instead of making toys, why not use chips for gene sequencing to change lives

1.Smart biochip revolutionizes sequencing

[Gene Club]Dr. Tian, first of all congratulate Axbio on the sequencer and smart biochip conference successfully held, what is your greatest feeling at this moment? What do you want to say to your team and Gene Club readers?

[Tian Hui] Thank you! As an entrepreneur, I am very happy with today’s achievements. First of all, thank my team. This is a milestone and a starting point. It is a summary of everyone’s efforts over the past few years. The teams including the United States, Russia and China are very encouraged, and the results of so many years of hard work will finally be displayed publicly.

Apart from the excitement, there are new milestones that we need to complete immediately, and we must stand at a higher altitude because there are more things to do and more space. Thank you Gene Readers for paying attention to us. I hope you will continue to pay attention to us and see that our products are successful in the market. I also hope that Gene Readers will become our customers one day in the future.

[Gene Club] We have seen that representatives of institutions including Shenzhen Tsinghua University Research Institute, Green Pine Capital, China Resources Group and other institutions responded particularly well to the press conference. What kind of opportunity did you choose to release a new sequencer and biochip at this time in June 2019?

[Tian Hui] We started business in 2016, and gradually accumulated technologies from integrated circuits, semiconductor processes, biochemistry, and microfluidics to integrate such a complex system, and it was at this node that we reached a staged goal.

From the market aspect, we also feel that the interest in this kind of smart chip is very high in the past two years. Everyone hopes that the complex genetic testing platform can be miniaturized, fast, simplified, and low cost. This is just our technology. One of the biggest advantages.

In addition to the gene sequencer as our core product, the smart biochip platform itself has also revolutionized many other industries, including the detection of proteins, nucleic acids, and small molecule compounds. At present, a number of institutions have begun in-depth cooperation with us.

2.China, especially Shenzhen, is the world’s high-tech production center

[Gene Club] We saw that the Axbio INC. team started their business in Silicon Valley. What kind of opportunity brought the team to settle in Shenzhen, China, to establish Axbio? From the establishment in 2016 to the release of new products in 2019, this time is relatively short. Can you talk about the process of R & D and technology transformation?

[Tian Hui] China provides a very favorable environment for innovation and entrepreneurship, especially in the development and approval of innovative products in the field of life and health, compared with the United States is a great advantage. On the other hand, the Chinese government’s support and market capacity are much larger than those of the United States. For example, the US government has issued a precision medical plan of about US $ 200 million, and China immediately launched China’s precision medical plan with dozens of times more funds. In addition to government promotion, many VCs and investment institutions have also followed up, bringing very good opportunities for development. We see that in addition to the greater market potential and wider range of applications, the volume and speed of product volume in the Chinese market also surpass that of the US market, especially in the affordability and demand of new technologies far exceeding those in other countries.

The reason why we chose Shenzhen, Tsinghua Research Institute played a very important role in the introduction. Shenzhen has a high degree of commercialization, marketization and internationalization, and living and working in Shenzhen is not much different from overseas. The support of the Shenzhen Municipal Government is very strong, and our team members have received support from talent programs including housing subsidies. We feel that the Shenzhen Municipal Government is really doing practical things and using the service mentality to help enterprises develop, which is almost unimaginable in the United States.

On many levels we have truly felt the “Shenzhen Speed”. For example, laboratory construction is very difficult to be a synthetic chemistry laboratory in the United States, and it will be very difficult to start developing. In China, we built a high-level synthetic chemistry laboratory in a few months. Therefore, the hardware equipment and facilities of our domestic platform are no worse than the United States. This has helped us speed up the research and development process to a considerable extent. China, especially Shenzhen, is the world’s high-tech production center. There are various production lines that can be mass-produced, including the industrial design and mechanical design of our products, which are also mainly completed in Shenzhen. Of course, it is relatively easy to recruit employees with rich industry experience in the United States, which is currently a certain challenge in the country. Therefore, we set up a research and development center in the Tsinghua University Research Institute in Shenzhen, and cooperated with the headquarters of Tsinghua University to jointly train post-doctors and establish a talent reserve.

3.Axbio: mass-produced high-throughput clinical sequencing platform production

[Gene Club] In the current highly competitive gene sequencing industry, what do you think is the positioning and characteristics of Anxuanyuan sequencer?

[Tian Hui] We mainly do clinical market. We believe that the existing products on the market still need to be improved, for example, to make up for the shortcomings of the second-generation sequencing read length and the high cost of the third-generation sequencing. Our product feature is to solve the price problem through high throughput, while achieving single-molecule long-read sequencing, and has the advantages of easy operation and fast speed. For example, we have adopted the world’s leading 12-inch semiconductor wafer process, which can integrate more devices and functions in the same space, produce more chips, and has a huge advantage over other processes in terms of performance and price. In product design, we have fully considered the clinical needs and adopted advanced biochemical methods to achieve rapid single molecule sequencing.

Unlike traditional biotechnology companies, our R & D path is oriented to mass production and high throughput. From the beginning, we designed and manufactured chips that can process biological signals on a large scale in parallel, and simultaneously developed microfluidic technology and biochemical reagents. The benefits are in two aspects: on the one hand, it can be directly made into high-throughput products; on the other hand, it accelerates the research and development process, and the biochemical experiment runs directly on the chip, which can generate a large amount of data at a time, which is convenient for quickly screening statistical Meaningful results to guide the adjustment of the technical route. This is actually the realization of the Lab-on-a-chip concept, and it is also a dream tool that many scientists have dreamed of. It can skip many gradual optimization processes from the laboratory to mass production.

[Gene Club] For the new sequencer, I think everyone is more concerned about three issues, one is the time plan for stable mass production, the second is the application entry point, and the third is the relevant parameter data.

[Tian Hui] We are working with partners to accelerate the application transformation of some areas of research and development, especially microbial and tumor detection. For example, in the field of microbiology, we can read the complete sequence of 16srRNA gene at a time. Another example is cooperation with the Russian Academy of Sciences

In particular, our team has extensive experience in R & D and mass production. For example, our COOIgor Ivanov graduated from the Junior Class of Saint Petersburg University in Russia with a PhD in Physical Chemistry. He is well-versed in the development of new materials and processes, and has also worked as a consultant for both Roche Group and Illumina. Igor has founded many high-tech companies in Silicon Valley in the United States and successfully merged or listed.

4.Using chips to change the world with genetic technology

[Gene Club] What kind of opportunity will you move from researching and developing CMOS image sensor field to life science field, what is your original intention?

[Tian Hui] I think many people have experienced the pain of being sick for themselves or their loved ones, and I am no exception. Therefore, since childhood, I feel that the medical industry is very noble and can cure illnesses and save people. But I am not suitable to be a doctor myself, and I do not know how to directly participate in human health.

Later, I encountered an “incidental” opportunity to enter a company to be responsible for the development of sequencing chips, where I met several “retirees” that I admire very much. After they retired from the position of vice-president / CTO / founder of a well-known American chip listed company, they came to this company in their 70s to serve or even work for free. From them, I have a deeper understanding and respect for this industry, and realize that my years of accumulation can also be directly used in biomedicine. Although not a doctor, you can use your identity as a craftsman to do your meager efforts in the field of life sciences.

We have an old saying in China called “Workers must first sharpen their tools if they want to do good things.” We make tools better, and we can do more scientific research. For example, we could only do one nanopore experiment a day, but now we can do millions of nanopore experiments a day. One of the keys to realize this technology is the interface between biochemical reagents and integrated circuits. I used to make similar products. At that time, I combined quantum dot nanomaterials and chips. Quantum dot nanomaterials are actually more sensitive to the environment and interfaces than biochemical reagents, and the heterogeneous material combination technology that makes it perfectly integrated with integrated circuit chips is quite complicated.

I remember when we made mass production products, we were very excited. From this project, we learned that the surface of the chip that was originally strictly sealed and protected can be opened, different materials can be added, and they can be combined together by various physical and chemical methods to make a product with new functions. After this product comes out, you can let the camera take clear pictures at night without the moon and auxiliary light sources. Since then, we have realized that combining integrated circuit chips with new materials can open up new products and open up a new market, thereby bringing the advantages of mass production of semiconductors to more application scenarios.

Based on this technology, the smart biochip reduces precision measurement instruments to the micron level, directly captures the weak ion signals generated by biological molecules, and then quickly amplifies and converts them into digital signals through the circuit. process. Put the biochemical reagent directly on the integrated circuit chip, and achieve a good signal coupling, you can achieve a high throughput and a high sensitivity. This is also a great help for biology.

5.Engineering-grade products make life better

[Gene Club] The combination of biochips and new materials opens new application windows. What are the special things that make you feel the significance of biotechnology and medical health?

[Tian Hui] A guest who came to the scene today has a very successful career and is the CEO of a famous listed company. After he got cancer, he had a more essential understanding of life. Since I heard that we used chips to develop gene sequencers for life and health, he used his own resources to help us do research and development. In his words, I used a chip as the camera of a mobile phone and wanted to replace it within a year. In fact, it is a toy. Now this product can really change people’s lives. I myself have persuaded several Apple engineers and management to cut their salaries to participate in the research and development of smart biochips. In their words: do you want to make toys for life, or do you want to make a product to change lives?

[Gene Club] What kind of company will Anxuyuan become in your company’s development roadmap in the next three years? What is your vision?

[Tian Hui] The recent vision for our industry is to let our products be delivered to users as soon as possible and applied to life sciences. We are a product-oriented company and pay more attention to the acceptance of products in the market. We hope that our company will have a place in the field of life sciences.

In the medium term, I hope to change the pattern of molecular diagnosis, from large diagnostic centers to distributed diagnosis and clinical testing, so that each doctor can have his own sequencing platform and can quickly use sequencing technology for disease diagnosis and treatment.

In the long run, we hope that through our technology and products, everyone in every family can use a portable sequencer, making gene sequencing within reach and helping everyone improve the quality of life and health.

[Gene Club] What is the bigger mission?

【Tian Hui】 Use engineering products to make life better.