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Semiconductor Microarray Maker Launches $100M IPO

NEW YORK, Nov 22 - CombiMatrix, a company that is using semiconductor technology to develop customizable microarrays, has filed for a $100 million initial public offering, the company announced Wednesday.

CombiMatrix, based in Snoqualmie, Wash., will use the money raised in the IPO to launch and market its microarrays, said Paul Ryan, chairman and CEO of Acacia Research, the majority owner of CombiMatrix. In addition to the IPO, the company currently has $48 million dollars in its coffers. Ryan would not say how many shares and at what price range it would offer its stock.

The company is beta testing its first product, a chip designed for SNP detection, " and we expect to offer this product for commercial sale by the end of 2001," said Ryan. " The company will directly market its bioarray processor to the industry, to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and the academic communities."

CombiMatrix will get a substantial boost from Acacia in this effort. Acacia, which currently owns 58.3 percent of CombiMatrix and intends to retain its majority interest in the company after the offering, will help develop a market for its subsidiary's chips. “Acacia Research intends to build and acquire companies in the life science field that will utilize CombiMatrix's biochip technology," said Ryan.

In a field already crowded with players eager for just a chip of the burgeoning microarray market, CombiMatrix is, like others, hoping its unique patented technology will set it apart.

" The company's technology integrates semiconductor, proprietary software, chemistry, and the Internet into a system we believe will enable us design customize and ship [microarrays] made to our potential customers' specifications typically in less than a day," Ryan said. " That's certainly quite different than anything that exists."

CombiMatrix's biological array processor consists of a semiconductor coated with a three-dimensional layer of porous material in which DNA, RNA, peptides, or other small molecules can be synthesized or immobilized within discrete test sites.

The company’s proprietary software directs sequence synthesis, using individually controlled electrodes on the surface of the semiconductor. Because the surface is porous and three-dimensional, the chip can hold a relatively large amount of sequences for synthesis, generating a stronger signal, Ryan said

The microarray also separates the test sites by using what the company calls " virtual flasks," thousands of tiny chemicals arranged in a grid pattern on the surface of the semiconductor wafer.

" The virtual flasks, which use chemistry of carefully designed liquid solutions instead of physical walls around each electrode, permit us to avoid the problem of chemical contamination between test sites," said Ryan.

Salomon Smith Barney is acting as lead manager for this offering with J.P. Morgan acting as co-manager. All of the shares in the proposed offering will be sold by CombiMatrix.

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