SiriusXT, a University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out, has been awarded a little more than €4.5 million in blended (grant and equity) funding from the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator Pilot programme which is part of Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme.

SiriusXT is one of 36 companies across Europe which together are receiving a total of nearly €166 million under this programme to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The funding will enable SiriusXT to contribute to the fight against the coronavirus on a pioneering project to pilot its soft X-ray microscope at leading virology and disease research labs across the EU, which are focused on coronavirus research and research on other diseases.

Cell signalling mechanisms

Changes in a cell’s shape and in the shape of its internal organelle are important influencers on the cell signalling mechanisms that underpin disease causation.

For this reason, 3D imaging of the internal structure of whole, intact cells is playing an increasingly important role in helping scientists to understand diseases. The only technology that can image through the whole substructure of an intact cell, is low energy (or ‘soft’) X-ray microscopy, often referred to as a nano-CT.

The problem is that the illumination required for a soft X-ray microscope is currently only available at four football-stadium sized facilities, called synchrotrons, and scientists have to queue for up to 12 months to get access to these.

Despite this limitation, a small number of scientists have persisted with using the synchrotron-based microscopes and have made some very noteworthy breakthroughs in understanding disease causation, particularly in the areas of cancer, dementia and malaria research and more recently in understanding how the coronavirus modifies human cells in order to replicate itself and spread.

Patent a miniaturised soft X-ray source

SiriusXT’s innovation, based on research carried out at UCD over many years, has been to develop and patent a miniaturised soft X-ray source, allowing it to build the first commercial, lab-scale microscope.

This breakthrough idea is revolutionising the cell imaging market by opening up access for a proven imaging modality to thousands of disease researchers worldwide.

SiriusXT, a NovaUCD supported company, was co-founded by Dr Kenneth Fahy, Dr Paul Sheridan, Dr Fergal O’Reilly and Tony McEnroe in 2015 as a spin-out from the UCD School of Physics.

Tony McEnroe, CEO and co-founder, SiriusXT said: “Our success with our project called LiCENT will allow the company to pilot our soft X-ray microscope at leading labs and centres across Europe which are focusing on coronavirus research, before we launch a commercial product at the end of 2021.

"The EIC Accelerator Pilot support is crucial in funding the risky and costly phase in launching a high-tech product in transitioning from a working prototype to a full commercial product.”

The award-winning company, which is also an Enterprise Ireland high potential startup, has now raised more than €10 million in grant and equity funding.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “The enormous talent and breakthrough ideas of innovative European companies give us hope.

'Unlock their potential'

"Our increased support to the European Innovation Council will unlock their potential so that we can better tackle the coronavirus and support our recovery. The EIC responded quickly to the coronavirus crisis and demonstrated the agility and impact of EU funding.”

In addition to the funding highlighted above, more than €148 million will be granted to another 36 companies, set to contribute to the recovery plan for Europe, bringing the total investment from Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme, to €314 million in this round.

Enterprise Ireland leads the national support network for Horizon 2020, working to increase participation by Irish companies and academic institutions in the EU’s main instrument for funding research in Europe.

SiriusXT was awarded the InterTradeIreland ‘Best Early Stage Start-Up’ in 2015 and was the inaugural winner of Enterprise Ireland’s ‘HPSU Founder of the Year’ in 2017.