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Plexpress Raises $2.3M to Expand Sales Effort for TRAC Gene Expression Platform


By Justin Petrone

Plexpress, a five-year-old Finnish technology firm, said this week that it has raised up to $2.3 million in funding to expand sales of its Transcript Analysis with the Aid of Affinity Capture, or TRAC, platform for high-content gene expression analysis.

Four existing investors and one new investor have invested $1.4 million in the company and have committed an additional $900,000 should Plexpress reach certain milestones.

CEO Jari Rautio told BioArray News that since it launched TRAC in 2009, Plexpress has offered it as a service through its labs in Helsinki. Now the firm plans to expand its market by selling the platform to contract research organizations that can offer TRAC services to their clients.

"Currently, the majority of revenue we generate is from our specialized Plexpress service lab," said Rautio. "However, we plan to expand our service offering via CROs, which will offer and [will] run the TRAC process [by] themselves, while Plexpress provides TRAC kits for them to use," he said.

Rautio added that Plexpress does not have any initial plans to build its own sales team and will continue to rely on distributors to sell its services.

The new investment in Plexpress follows a 2009 round in which the company raised $2.75 million in seed funding (BAN 5/12/2009).

Following that round, the company established a subsidiary in Los Altos, Calif., that it planned to use as a hub for sales and marketing, as well as the site of a North American services lab.

Rautio this week said that the subsidiary still exists in the Bay Area, but that it has no full-time employees. He did not elaborate.

Investors in both rounds include Conor Technology Fund I, based in Espoo, Finland; Veraventure, of Kuopio, Finland; the Helsinki University Fund; and VTT Technical Research Center of Turku, Finland. The new investor in the latest funding round is Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.

Rautio said that following this financing round Plexpress is not actively looking for new investors but remains open to discussions.

Plexpress was established in 2007 to commercialize technology developed at VTT. According to the firm, TRAC relies on a set of amplifiable detection probes of distinct sizes, and biotinylated oligo capture probes that are hybridized in solution. The resulting sandwich hybrids are collected on magnetic streptavidin-coated microparticles and washed.

The hybridized probes are then eluted, optionally amplified by PCR using a universal primer pair, and detected with laser-induced fluorescence and capillary electrophoresis.

The company touts the method's lack of RNA extraction, cDNA conversion, and amplification steps as an advantage, and claims the TRAC protocol takes four hours to complete. TRAC has been adapted to work in a 96-well format, allowing users to profile the expression of 30 genes in each well.

Plexpress has said that applications for the platform include compound screening, cellular signaling, stem cell and cancer research, and toxicology.

Since starting operations in 2008, the company has carried out more than 50 projects using the TRAC technology in the fields of pharmaceutical development and academic research, Rautio said.

Plexpress currently offers a Fast TRAC service for multiplex gene expression analysis, as well as a Yeast TRAC service for yeast expression projects. It also provides a Human ADME-tox service for measuring gene-expression levels of cytochrome P450-encoding genes and "other relevant tox genes associated with drug metabolism," according to its website.

Rautio said that Plexpress will use the new investment to "build up" its ADMET screening service, specifically targeting the oncology research market. "This funding will enable Plexpress to pursue high-value market opportunities, such as companion diagnostics and ADMET," he said.

TRAC will compete with a host of qPCR and microarray products, starting with Affymetrix's DMET Plus pharmacogenomic screening assay, and Illumina's VeraCode ADME Core Panel.

In addition to Affy and Illumina, another competitor is HTG Molecular. HTG's quantitative Nucleic Protection Assay, or qNPA, can be used to measure gene expression and relies on a lysis buffer to release the RNA from the sample, eliminating the RNA extraction, amplification, and labeling steps.

Rautio argued that TRAC provides "significant benefits" over "existing technologies such as qPCR and microarrays, which do not offer either the throughput or the multiplexing that many genomics researchers require."

With regards to arrays, he said that TRAC enables "higher sample throughput" as "hundreds to thousands of samples can be processed in parallel using standard 96-well plates."

Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioArray News? Contact the editor at jpetrone [at] genomeweb [.] com.