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Fluidigm Focusing on Partnerships as IPO Remains Goal

By Edward Winnick

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - Fluidigm officials said Monday that the firm is focusing on growing its business and inking partnerships as it keeps its eye on a potential initial public offering.

The microfluidics and array manufacturer was forced to withdraw its proposed IPO amid the market meltdown a year ago. At the time, company officials said that Fluidigm would go public once the markets stabilized.

Speaking after the firm's presentation Monday at the UBS Global Life Sciences Conference here, Fluidigm CFO Vikram Jog told GenomeWeb Daily News that the company still intends to do the IPO, but the timing remains uncertain. Optimistically, it could happen next year, he said, but that depends on the market's appetite for IPOs.

Jog said that Fluidigm could finance its operations through other forms of funding including another bridge financing or venture capital funding. However, he said the firm would prefer to do a financing that is non-dilutive, and he noted that private funding valuations right now are not very attractive.

In the meantime, he and Fluidigm President and CEO Gajus Worthington said that the company is focusing on building partnerships and pushing internal growth. Fluidigm recently entered the next-generation sequencing market with a sample-prep offering for the front end of platforms sold by Illumina, Life Technologies, and Roche/454. It also is developing a stem cell culture chip with funding it received last year from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Fluidigm also is looking for a partner to commercialize a prenatal diagnostic test it is developing for Down syndrome. The test, which uses digital PCR, represents a massive market opportunity for Fluidigm and competitors, such as Sequenom and Genzyme, which are also attempting to get an accurate, non-invasive molecular test on the market.

Last year, Fluidigm licensed co-exclusive rights to intellectual property developed at Stanford University for detecting fetal genetic characteristics in maternal plasma, including the use of a combination of digital PCR and high-throughput sequencing for that application. According to Worthington, Fluidigm's IP position gives it freedom to operate in providing digital PCR-based prenatal tests on its array platform.

On Monday, Worthington said that the company was looking for a partner that has expertise in providing molecular diagnostic services and preferably has access to relevant Down syndrome samples. He said that such a partner could be an existing Down syndrome test provider or a firm looking to get into that market.

In addition to discussing new products and partnerships, Worthington noted during his presentation that Fluidigm's revenues for the first six months of 2009 were $9.3 million, more than double its revenues of $4.4 million for the first half of 2008. The company placed 35 of its array-based instruments in the first half of this year compared to a total of 37 for full-year 2008.

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