Interview with Benoit SCHEID from SECOYA
Secoya Technologies develops innovative production technologies and equipment by a smart use of intensified operational units. It results in stable and reliable processes – at any scale – producing high quality
Using cutting-edge technologies as sub-micrometric 3D printing and micro-electro-erosion, SECOYA has developed a unique device that is able to continuously produce micro-sized droplets at a very high frequency (kHz) and with a very narrow size distribution (high monodispersity). Its use for encapsulation of active ingredients and multiple emulsions has been demonstrated.
- Can you briefly introduce yourself ? What does your job involve?
Benoit Scheid, Senior Researcher, FNRS (National Foundation for Scientific Research).
Professor at the “Université Libre de Bruxelles”, teaching microfluidics to bioengineers and biomedical engineers.
Research activities focusing on process-orientated microfluidics.
Chairman of the Secoya board and scientific advisor.
- What made you decide to launch this project?
Other developments achieved in parallel at the laboratory concerning continuous-flow crystallisation and liquid/liquid separation by microfluidic pervaporation led us to consider the creation of a single spin-off which would make use of each of the technologies developed at the lab. All the researchers involved agreed with the idea of joining forces and embarking on the venture together, convinced that our technological complementarity would be a bonus for the success of the company.
- Can you introduce your start-up and its history? What role does Secoya play and when did your adventure begin?
The idea for a start-up had been in the air since 2012, as the success of several research projects subsidised at the laboratory were the creation of a spin-off. However, the venture really began to take shape in 2016 with a project for the high-frequency generation of micro droplets. Thanks to a unique combination of manufacturing techniques, the system developed proved to be extremely promising for possible industrial use. We were ready to take the plunge.
- In what business sector is your startup? Why use microfluidics in this sector?
The pharmaceutical industry. This sector is very conservative with regard to the manner in which its active ingredients are produced but it is currently making a significant shift towards intensifying processes, fuelled by recent developments in microfluidics. There is an awareness that the sector has been trailing in this innovative field for quite a number of years and a conviction that this shift will bring significant benefits. The production volumes in this sector are also sufficiently low to be compatible with microfluidic technologies. Lastly, this is a sector producing high added value products, making it an excellent entry point.
- What are microfluidics? What is a microfluidic chip?
Microfluidics is the art of handling fluids at submillimetric scale, and by extension, the handling of micrometric objects (particles, crystals, cells, bacteria, etc.) within these fluids.
A microfluidic chip is an object of a similar size to a microelectronic chip and is manufactured using similar techniques.
A microfluidic chip incorporates functions enabling various operations to be performed, ranging from biological diagnostics to the production of molecules.
- Microfluidics and medicine seem very far removed from each other. How do things actually stand?
These disciplines are very close in fact. Medicine has been using microfluidics for a long time. A pregnancy test is a microfluidic system in its most basic form. Today, increasingly sophisticated microfluidic diagnostic tools are appearing in all areas of medicine. Apart from medical diagnosis, microfluidics is used to design functionalised biochemical systems close to those of certain organs. This is referred to as organ-on-a-chip.
- Does this discipline make it possible to achieve economies of scale?
Yes, on several levels. The reduction in size goes hand-in-hand with a reduction in time. Therefore it enables a larger number of operations to be performed in the shortest possible time and in a reduced space. The costs related to processes are thus also reduced, due to both the smaller quantities of samples or reagents needed, and the lower energy.
- Can you give us one word to define microfluidics for the future?
One sentence rather: the possibilities of microfluidics will end at the point when human imagination runs dry, i.e. never!
- How can microfluidics change our lives?
In point-of-care diagnostic devices for use in the home.
For production in small delocalised production units, in particular to provide cheap drugs adapted to patients in developing countries.
- Currently, what are the main applications of microfluidics, your technology and your chip?
The main applications today are in diagnostics for biology and medicine. Centrifugal microfluidics in particular has an important role in this field.
However, the Secoya technologies target the production of molecules, particularly what are referred to as pharmaceutical active ingredients, both chemical and biological.
Secoya offers a range of technologies, i.e. crystallisation, liquid/liquid separation, reaction and micro-encapsulation. Its strength is precisely its ability to combine these technologies to integrate them into an industrial process which best satisfies customers’ needs in terms of quality and cost reduction.
Products and collaboration
- What is your flagship product?
The Raydrop. It is a universal emulsifier. Thanks to its geometry, it enables any phase to be emulsified in any other (water in oil or oil in water), even partially miscible fluids.
- What benefit can this product provide?
Its axisymmetrical geometry means that it reduces the number of independent parameters, thus enabling comprehensive modelling of the system. This is a definite bonus in the context of microfluidic emulsification, considerably facilitating prediction and control. It is a robust system by design, suitable for large-scale commercialisation and, most importantly, versatile. Today, we no longer talk about “consumable microfluidic chips” but rather “hardware”, with interchangeable ends allowing double emulsion for example.
- Can you describe the current collaboration with Fluigent / Why did you choose to work with Fluigent?
Fluigent is the exclusive distributor of the Raydrop. Fluigent has always positioned itself as a supplier of high-end products. For this reason we immediately thought that Fluigent would be the ideal distributor for the Raydrop.
- What does the future hold for Secoya?
Currently, Secoya is a company which co-develops new processes with its customers based on microfluidics principles. However, our goal in the long term is to offer the market equipment based on these developments. The Raydrop is an example of this, but other equipment is already in the Secoya product pipeline, such as continuous flow and liquid/liquid separation modules.
Do you need more information?
PLGA MICROPARTICLE SYNTHESIS
When PLGA is used as an active pharmaceutical ingredient carrier it is important to produce highly monodispersed particles for drug release reproducibility. The most common production process of PLGA particles is solvent based and can involve hazardous solutions. Ethyl acetate is preferred as it shows better biocompatibility than other conventional solvent such as dichloromethane.
Drop-Seq, a high throughput method for mRNA sequencing
The Drop-Seq protocol is a high throughput method that enables the sequencing of the mRNA from a large number of cells. The power of this technology resides in the fact that during sequencing, one can distinguish where the original information came on a cell to cell basis. This allows one to make a gene expression map of the cell, or even to distinguish cell populations within a tissue.
Microbiome culture in droplet using dsurf surfactant
Biomillenia’s microbiome-on-a-chip technology uses droplet generation to create bacterial cell banks, evaluate microorganisms for desired phenotypes and to find new routes to prevent and treat dysbiosis. Most of the microfluidic droplet techniques require biocompatible surfactants to keep the droplets stable but it can be affected by growth of bacteria in droplets.