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Aushon BioSystems Will Use $7.8M VC Cash To Build S&M Force; Eyes Euro Expansion

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Microarray developer Aushon BioSystems this week raised $7.8 million in a Series A round of venture capital financing and plans to use the cash to expand its sales and marketing teams to support the launch of its 2470 arrayer instrument, according to a company official.
 
“We are hiring for senior sales and marketing positions right now,” John Austin, the company’s president and co-founder, told BioArray News this week. “In addition to filling these and other areas, we are using the funds for new product development.”
 
Aushon, which has been self-funded since it was founded three years ago, has already placed the 2470 with clients at MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine at George Mason University, and the National Cancer Institute, the firm said in a statement. Its newfound cash will enable it to chase biotech, pharma, diagnostic, and medical labs as well, said Austin.
 
“We have interest from all those customer groups,” Austin said. He added that Aushon will soon provide some information on the use of the 2470 in clinical settings — specifically, College of American Pathologists and Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-approved labs — to raise the system’s profile in the clinical market.
 
Aushon currently sells directly in North America through its Burlingame, Mass., headquarters. Austin said that he and co-founder and CEO Peter Honkanen have handled sales and marketing so far. He said that the company will sell directly in parts of Western Europe and that it is “actively looking for partners” for the rest of Europe, Asia, and other markets. Austin added that he and Honkanen have retained a majority in the company following the recent capital investment.
 
The System
 
Unlike other array companies in the market like that use ink-jet methodology to print their arrays, Aushon’s 2470 arrayer references older technology through its use of spotted pins, Austin said.
 
According to Austin, the high-throughput, automated system uses a 48-pin printhead that is capable of spotting between 60,000 and 200,000 spots an hour, depending on internal settings. He said that the company is also developing “very-high-throughput capabilities in house – for internal use and for supporting our printing-service/OEM customers.”
 
We went back to examine some basic printing tenets in developing our printing technology. We wanted to address the printing requirements of a wide range of microarray users, including some of the more challenging materials [like] proteins, antibodies, lysates, plasma, et cetera,” he said. “This led us to the adoption of a solid pin printing system, since this is by far the least sensitive to material property variations.”
 
While Austin is convinced that the company’s solid pin technology will have the technical advantage in the market, he said he is aware of the negative connotations sometimes associated with solid-pin arrayers, a fact on which other arrayer companies, like the UK’s Arrayjet, have sought to capitalize.
 

“Many users have a negative association with pin printing because of previous experiences with the earlier generation of arrayers — particularly for arraying onto delicate surfaces.”

For example, Douglas Roy, a molecular biologist at the University of Edinburgh and Arrayjet co-founder, told BioArray News in March 2005 that Arrayjet’s ink jet-based printing made it more attractive than the standard pin-based microarray spotters offered by competitors because those using pin-based systems often experience differentiation in quality of printing. Those producing their own arrays using pin spotters would often wind up with “sub-arrays” or quadrants of the chip that had higher densities of oligonucleotides than others, Roy said.
 
“They achieve a certain level and then they just plateau and it’s very hard to push beyond that. So like the pin-prints were like quill pens in the 18th century, this is sort of like modern printing for microarrays,” he said (see BAN 3/9/2005).
 
Austin agreed that “many users have a negative association with pin printing because of previous experiences with the earlier generation of arrayers — particularly for arraying onto delicate surfaces.
 
“Overcoming this association is sometimes a challenge for us, but the concerns usually dissipate quickly when users see the results,” he said. For example, Aushon’s clients “routinely print onto delicate surfaces such as nitrocellulose,” he said.
 
Austin also pointed out that “most ink-jet arrayers have difficulty handling a wide range of viscosities and buffers reliably; the same is true for quill pins arrayers.” He said the company has “spent a lot of time understanding and addressing the shortcomings of the older generation of arrayers.”  Austin added that the company’s internally produced arrays showed “extremely low coefficients of variation.”

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