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Cytoo to Spend $10M in New Funding on R&D, Marketing Activities

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By Justin Petrone

Cytoo will use the proceeds from its most recent round of financing to fund several R&D projects and expand its marketing activities, with the hope of attracting more interest from pharmaceutical customers, according to its CEO.

Francois Chatelain told BioArray News this week that the developer of micropattern array technology for cell-based assays raised the $10 million in series C financing to "aggressively do R&D and innovation" and to "beef up" its marketing efforts.

"We believe we have raised the funds that we need to reach profitability, but it depends on how fast we can move on revenues," he said. "But the idea is not to raise [any] more money."

Grenoble, France-based Cytoo announced the round earlier this month. Investors included French insurance firm Sham, the Entrepreneurs Fund, Auriga Partners, and Jacques Lewiner, who is a co-founder of the firm and president of its supervisory board.

Founded in 2008, Grenoble, France-based Cytoo sells chips and plates for cell-based assays. Based on technology licensed from the Institut Curie and France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Cytoo's chips control the adhesion of cells in predetermined patterns, including disc, crossbow, H, Y, and L shapes, in small, medium, and large sizes, to reduce cell-to-cell variability in high-throughput, cell-based assays.

Cytoo's current generation of chips are 2-cm2, 170-micrometer glass substrates covered with an organized grid of 144 micropattern arrays that provide 20,000 micropatterns. Last year, the firm introduced 96-well CytooPlates, each of which in total holds an array of more than 3,000 identical micropatterns. The company's chips and plates are imaged using its CytooChambers, which fit into standard microscope instruments.

Chatelain distinguished the platform from conventional cell microarrays, which he said are for "very high multiplexing.

"What we do is normalize cells," he said. "They look like they are arrayed, but the main feature of our technology is that they are normalized; they are identical to one another."

He added that researchers using arrays for single-cell analysis would benefit from using Cytoo's chips. "It would be interesting to combine this with cells that are actually normalized so as to reduce the variability from cell to cell," he said.

Chatelain said that one project that will receive additional support from the new financing round is a collaboration with Cellectis Bioresearch and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission to develop cell-based assays for drug development and toxicology.

Announced in September, the project, called ETICS, for Evolved Tissue Inspired Cell Systems, is being funded with €7.6 million ($10.2 million) over five years from OSEO, a French agency that provides funding to small- and medium-sized firms. Cytoo is receiving €4 million for the project, Cellectis Bioresearch €2.9 million, and CEA is getting €700,000.

Ultimately, the partners aim to develop and sell kits made up of genetically modified cells by Cellectis Bioresearch and micropatterned supports from Cytoo.

But Chatelain said that the company hopes to invest the funds in general platform development. "Cytoo has a very particular technology and we believe there is much work to do," he said. "The technology is still in its infancy, so we want to do R&D and continue to drive innovation in the same direction, which is really the monitoring of cells in vitro."

New products are on the horizon. Cytoo continues to develop a 384-well plate format, but Chatelain said that the firm's customers, primarily academics, are still using its chips and plates in "small-sized screens, so the 96-well plate format seems to do the job."

He said that Cytoo is also working on kits to monitor cytoskeletal rearrangement in cells. A number of other companies, including PerkinElmer and Cellomics, also offer tools for studying cytoskeletal rearrangement. "We are adding different flavors to our different offering," Chatelain said of the company's strategy.

Cytoo also recently introduced a service for customers that allows them to develop assays at Cytoo and then have them transferred to their own facilities.

Beefing Up

The last time that Cytoo completed a financing round was in 2009, when it raised $4.7 million to support the establishment of a subsidiary near Boston (BAN 12/1/2009).

Chatelain said that the company will now invest more in its global marketing activities, especially in reaching out to partners in industry, such as pharmas, biotechs, and contract research organizations.

"Our marketing in the last two years has got good results in terms of traction, in particular in the academic research sector, and today there are more than 300 labs in the world that use our products," said Chatelain. "The next challenge for the company is to get the technology adopted by industry," he said. "We feel it is very useful for cell-based assays because they are being used in screening for drug discovery."

He noted that the Drug Safety Executive Council, an organization of 2,000 drug safety leaders, is currently using Cytoo's platform to screen 66 drugs in cooperation with seven pharmas to "evaluate our technology for in vitro drug discovery."

Beyond Europe and the US, Cytoo is also keeping an eye on markets in Asia. Chatelain said that Japan has been a "natural market" for the firm, where it already has several customers. The "big question marks" are over China and India.

"Like many other companies we are looking at China and India," said Chatelain. "They have quite a lot of CROs that work for pharma companies but as far as we are concerned, it doesn't look like they are very involved in high-content screening and preclinical research, so we are probably going to be standing by waiting for these markets to develop in Asia," he said.


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