Pamgene now has all the financial ammunition that it needs to finish development and begin commercializing its microarray-based products, according to Tim Kievits, the company’s founder and chief executive.
“Financially, the company is fully loaded to get the product into the market,” Kievits told BioArray News this week.
PamGene, of Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, on July 7 announced a new investor, LCF Rothschild of Paris, and the closing of a €10 million ($11.2 million) round of institutional funding that included all of its original first-round (December 2000) investors — Alta Partners (San Francisco), GIMV (Belgium), and LSP (Netherlands) — contributing individual infusions of €2.5 million.
Raphael Wisniewski, investment manager at LCF Rothschild, joined PamGene’s supervisory board, which is led by interim chairman Jean Deleage of Alta Partners, and also includes Mark Wegter of LSP, Patrick van Beneden of GIMV, Ralph Martinke of Olympus, and Ton Stap of BioMerieux. In June, Pieter Strijkert, who served as chairman of PamGene’s board since February 2000, stepped down from his position and was replaced by Deleage, managing general partner and founding member of Alta.
PamGene, a 2000 spin-out of Akzo Nobel’s former diagnostics business unit Organon Teknika (which is now part of BioMerieux), is commercializing a flow-through microarray system. The second-round funds will bring to market its flagship high-throughput product, the PamStation 96 system, a microtiter plate product containing 96 wells, each with a flow-through microarray containing from 40 to 400 probes. The PamStation will be sold to large research organizations, rather than individual labs.
“This is our main big project,” Kievits said. “Our goal is to have not only the system, but also validated chips so that customers can take the results and put them into a database.”
The company has collected some €32 million in funding since its founding in 2000, including €6 million in equity from a collaboration with Japan-based Olympus, and an additional €10 million in government grants and loans.
“We are one of the few [private microarray] companies that are well-financed,” said Kievits. “I am very happy to have all of my investors still supporting us in these times when it is so difficult to generate funding. They had to make clear choices, and they did it. The money, and the income, the deals, and the grants, are enough to make us a successful company. And the products we are working on can compete with the best in the market for research in the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology, and academic research.”
The company’s technology includes the FD10 semi-automated PamChip four-array station, a $100,000 system with integrated hybridization and image acquisition that has been co-developed with Olympus Optical, which will sell and market it. Olympus manufactures the instruments and PamGene makes the custom chips at its manufacturing facility in the Netherlands.
The system works with PamChip standard or custom microarrays, which are built to the format of a 1x3-inch microscope glass slide. The slips are made of plastic laminate sandwiching a porous metal oxide that contains four array areas, on which up to 400 three-dimensional spots of oligonucleotides, proteins, peptides, or DNA-fragments are spotted by ink jet.
Additionally, the company has developed TYRAS, an isothermal nucleic acid amplification system for gene transcript profiling that enables the linear amplification of mRNA, without the use of sub-ambient temperatures and centrifugation. PamGene’s process takes less than two hours and involves two additions in one tube.
The company is also working on developing its flow-through chips for diagnostic applications. Kievets said he is watching the recent developments between Roche Diagnostics and the FDA (see page 1).
“We are very interested in that discussion and I hope that we will be involved in the discussions,” he said.
Kievets said his concern over microarrays as diagnostic tools is based on the synthesis of the assays that are placed on the chip.
“The FDA looks for over 90 percent purity of biomaterials in a diagnostic assay. Microarrays are so difficult; there are so many biomolecules on them,” he said. “The purity of the biomolecule is pretty important in the assay if you synthesize on the substrate. The synthesis should be done up front, [and the probe] purified, and quality-controlled before being put on the chip, so you are sure what you put on the chip. The question is, how do microarrays, and certainly the Affymetrix ones, fit into those typical regulations? It’s a good idea that the FDA is doing this; it’s timely.”