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Fluidigm to Use $18M Financing to Support R&D, Marketing Efforts

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By Justin Petrone

Fluidigm plans to invest $18.2 million in new financing on R&D for its gene-expression, genotyping, and sequence-capture applications, and to grow its global sales and marketing force, according to a company representative.

Spokesperson Howard High told BioArray News this week that the new funding, raised from a private placement of its stock, should also provide Fluidigm with "enough cushion to reach profitability."

The South San Francisco, Calif.-based firm eventually hopes to raise as much as $24.1 million from the offering, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. High said that the current amount was raised in two tranches. The firm has not disclosed the investors.

The financing "allows us to continue to invest in our focus areas for R&D, continue in invest in the growth of our business, and allows us enough cushion to reach profitability," High said. "While profitability projections are based on our continued revenue growth and controlled spending, et cetera, we do feel that we can achieve this goal without additional monies."

The company had planned to go public last year, but delayed its initial public offering due to the economic downturn and the stock market's nosedive in the fall of 2008. At the time, it had hoped that an IPO would enable it to raise as much as $82 million to support its R&D and commercialization efforts (see BAN 9/30/2008).

In terms of marketing, High reiterated the firm's desire to grow its sales force. Last month, CEO Gajus Worthington told BioArray News sister publication GenomeWeb News that the firm's goal is to "quadruple the size of our US sales operations over the next two years" and bring the size of its US sales operation to 60 people.

Worthington also said at the time that the company would look to add sales and marketing resources in Europe and Asia, but that because US sales had been driving the firm's revenues its priority would be in that region.

Specifically, Fluidigm said in September that revenues for the first six months of 2009 were $9.3 million, more than double the $4.4 million it reported for the first half of 2008. The company has seen sales rise on the adoption of its BioMark and EP1 systems. The firm's BioMark system enables users to perform quantitative PCR, gene expression, and genotyping on one system, while the EP1 system is used for high-throughput SNP genotyping and digital PCR.

Going into 2010, High said that Fluidigm hopes to grow adoption of its products in three main application areas: gene expression, genotyping, and target enrichment. For gene expression, High said that Fluidigm would specifically work to expand use of its integrated fluidic circuit-based chips for single-cell and stem-cell expression, where the firm has already seen adoption. For instance, in June two leading Japanese stem cell researchers adopted the BioMark platform to conduct stem-cell studies (see BAN 6/30/2009).

"We have a lot of momentum in this area worldwide and it was an important driver of our revenue growth in 2009," said High. "We want to continue and expand that effort in 2010."

In genotyping, High said that Fluidigm is reaching out to researchers in the agriculture industry, some of whom have already adopted the firm's EP1 System and Dynamic Arrays for their studies.

"We have a strong and growing presence in fish, vegetables, and livestock," he said of the firm's sales to agbio, where the market is increasingly competitive. Other companies that sell arrays and biochips have sought to capture a piece of the agbio industry for themselves over the past year, with all major array vendors declaring the market a priority.

Thirdly, Fluidigm is looking to promote its Access Array System for use with next-generation sequencing platforms. Launched this year, Access Array provides users with sample capture and target enrichment, sample barcoding for multiplexed sequencing, and sequencing library preparation using amplicon tagging.

In this space, Fluidigm will be competing with companies like Agilent Technologies, Roche NimbleGen, Febit, RainDance Technologies, and others.

High said that so far Access Array is receiving "strong initial acceptance" and that, if Fluidigm grows the product line as it plans to next year, Access Array "will become our fastest growth product in our company’s history."

Fluidigm also sells an application called SlingShot, for use with next-gen sequencers, which enables the absolute quantification of amplifiable DNA in a library. However, High said that Access Array is the "real key for us in this segment."

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The R&D Front

In terms of R&D, Fluidigm has a number of projects underway. Company officials told BioArray News in August that the company is developing new biochips for stem cell studies, sample preparation, and higher-throughput genotyping (see BAN 8/18/2009).

Chief Scientific Officer Marc Unger said at the time that a new stem cell chip in development should simplify protocols recently developed to turn differentiated cells into stem cells, and to reprogram stem cells to differentiate in a desired way.

This week, High said Fluidigm is "driving forward on the stem cell culture chip and the instrumentation and software that will support his chip," adding that the company has seen " a lot of interest" in this chip from stem cell and cancer researchers.

High said that Fluidigm is developing other applications on its Digital Arrays. "We are continuing our development efforts on non-invasive prenatal diagnostics," he said. "We have stated that we will likely partner with another company in this area to bring full capabilities to this intriguing area."

According to High, the firm is also developing a sample processor chip that will enable users to input raw samples, such as blood, directly into the integrated fluidic circuit and extract and purify what the user desires to analyze, such as DNA, RNA, proteins, or other biomolecules.

Additionally, Fluidigm hopes next year to launch chips that will enable users to run 192 different samples in assays of up to either 24 or 96 markers. Its current 96.96 Dynamic Arrays allow users to run 96 different samples on 96 distinct genetic markers.

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