The winner of the 2022 Health Pitching Competition was Helsinki-based biotech startup SCellex, pitched by the company founder, CEO Päivi Saavalainen. As the first prize, the company was granted €5,000 to continue the development of their solution.
SCellex is developing a novel spatial transcriptomics method based on visual barcoding with feature barcode beads, as well as a picowell chip array platform to study the gene expression profiles of cells directly from tissue sections or single cells in high throughput manner. This has impact on biomedical research and also future diagnostic use, as it helps to discover the locations, roles and interactions of different cell types both in healthy tissues and diseases, and to explore their key marker genes as potential drug targets. Päivi Saavalainen founded the company in 2018.
“I run the Immunomics research lab at the University of Helsinki and Folkhälsan Research Center, and one of the focus areas of my group has been single-cell RNA sequencing methods. Back in 2016, I invented a novel way to barcode single cells for high-throughput sequencing. At that stage, it was just an idea with no data nor funding, so the University and Helsinki Innovation Services (the tech transfer office of University of Helsinki) decided to leave the IPR to me,” she recalls the first steps of SCellex.
“In 2018, I joined the SPARK Finland program, as I saw that the spatial analysis of cells and tissues was about to become a hot topic. SPARK Finland provided me with a lot of support and feedback from experts, broadened my network and put me in touch with great mentors that believed in my idea and encouraged me to take the next steps, so in September of that same year I founded SCellex.”
The first grant came from Runar Bäckström Foundation in early 2019. The initial team and the board members also decided to invest in the company, and the first angel investor got on board during the same year. Instrumentarium Science Foundation supported SCellex with a larger grant of €50,000, and the company’s angel investor decided to make a second investment and also join the board.
“This was enough to get Business Finland involved, now supporting us with an R&D loan of over half a million euros,” Saavalainen says.
Go to market in 2023