Michael Treble, president and chief executive officer of NimbleGen Systems of Madison, Wisc., since 2000, has resigned from the company as it prepares to spend $12.5 million in new financing.
“The company and I have separated on quite agreeable terms,” the 56-year-old Treble told BioArray News this week. “They have great products and great technology and will do fine over the long haul, but I had different time horizons.”
“Michael left to pursue other opportunities; we wish him well,” Bob Palay, the company’s chairman and new chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview.
NimbleGen, founded in 1999 as a University of Wisconsin-Madison spinoff, is commercializing a patented maskless array synthesizer system for creating custom-designed in situ DNA chips using light projection technology. The company’s current business plan is to provide outsource services based on its proprietary platform.
$12.5M Series D Funding
Treble’s decision to move on comes just after the April closing of the company’s series D round of financing. Since its founding, the company has raised $32.5 million in venture capital and strategic investment. This recent round is significant for its size in an economic environment where many genomics toolmakers located on both the East and West coasts are finding new capital infusions elusive, if available at all.
Schott Nexterion of Mainz, Germany, the life science division of the manufacturing company Schott Group, led NimbleGen’s funding, which included a new investor, ITX Corporation of Japan, a life sciences investment firm. Previous investors joining the round included Skyline Ventures of Palo Alto, Calif.; Venture Investors of Madison; Baird Venture Partners of Milwaukee; Tactics II Investments of Chicago; the State of Wisconsin Investment Board; and The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
Treble said he is taking time off before making a decision on what next to pursue.
“I’ve been working for 10 years straight, it’s time to take a break,” he said.
Prior to joining NimbleGen, Treble was the executive vice president and COO of Third Wave Technologies, another University of Wisconsin spinoff.
He said that the microarray industry still offers promise, despite a discouraging funding atmosphere.
“The VC industry has written off the genomics tools companies,” he said. “But I think we have another 20 years of science to work on. The volume of data associated with the tools and the price points have not made it economical to do the far-reaching projects. The industry has to develop a technology that is accurate and will deliver the appropriate answers. That’s doable over the next three to four years.”
Slashing Microarray Costs
NimbleGen says it addresses that market. The firm has a catalog of arrays from over 100 annotated sequenced genomes: The arrays are available in high-density slide form with as many as 780,000 probes on a 1x3 slide at 17 microns feature size.
“We are in a position where we are able to quickly design and manufacture high-density arrays,” said Palay. “We are creating new markets for microarrays. The funding is a testament to the capability of our products and services.”
Palay said the overall valuation of the company has increased in each round, but did not disclose a value.
“All I can say is that as a founder, I was very happy with the round,” he said.
As the company’s rounds of financing have progressed, its circle of investors, according to Palay, has grown from regional venture capital groups to large firms and strategic investors.
“What you see is a normal trajectory for funding a company,” he said. “When VC funding got tough, we had strategic investors able to come in.”
Applying The Funds
The funds will be used to increase the firm’s sales and production capability, Palay said.
The 52-employee company sells its services to NASA and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, as well as to the University of Wisconsin, which retains an equity stake. Palay said he expects the firm to become cash-flow positive this year.
NimbleGen was spun out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison when researchers used Texas Instruments micromirror devices to create a microarray to analyze the DNA of Arabidopsis. The university helped patent the resulting technology and launch the business.
In early April, the company announced an exclusive distribution agreement with GeneFrontier of Tokyo, an ITX portfolio company. GeneFrontier will provide marketing, sales, and services for NimbleGen in Japan.
In March 2002, NimbleGen Systems opened a production and service facility in Reykjavik, Iceland, which serves as the principal production site for its arrays. The company also owns Chemogenix, a German subsidiary that creates novel chemistries for use in nucleic acid and protein arrays.