BALTIMORE – Riding the waves of recent product rebranding and collaborations, Akoya Biosciences is poised to expand its spatial biology offerings this year while enhancing its footprint in clinical markets.
In a conference call on Monday recapping the Marlborough, Massachusetts-based company's 2021 earnings, Akoya CEO Brian McKelligon highlighted "several strategic priorities" for 2022 and beyond. These include delivering "new, robust spatial biology solutions" to the market with improved speed, flexibility, and multiplexing capacities; expanding the company's multiomic capabilities for RNA and spatial transcriptomics; and enhancing partnerships with industry and academic medical centers to expand Akoya's footprint in the translational and clinical trial markets, McKelligon said.
In line with these business strategies, Akoya rebranded Codex, its automated, high-multiplex cycling platform, as PhenoCycler in January. The renaming is apt because the platform provides "unbiased high-parameter capabilities as an in situ reagent delivery device" that can cycle reagents on and off of tissue, said McKelligon. Concurrently, the company rebranded the Phenoptics high-speed imaging platform as PhenoImager.
According to McKelligon, although Codex was able to physically integrate with customers' existing microscopes, the majority of its users were still buying new microscopes dedicated to the system. Therefore, when Akoya released PhenoCycler, it also introduced Fusion, an imager that "contains the same leading optical capabilities" as the higher throughput PhenoImager HT but with a smaller footprint and explicitly designed to integrate with the PhenoCycler.
A key benefit of the PhenoCycler-Fusion combination, McKelligon said, is that customers can now run high-plex experiments "nearly an order of magnitude faster, enabling larger, more meaningful studies and a contracted time to result." Additionally, he said Fusion can also function as a standalone instrument that allows researchers to run biomarker validation studies at a lower plex with a throughput of 100 samples per week.
McKelligon is confident that customers will now preferentially choose Fusion over a conventional third-party microscope. He also anticipates that revenues from Fusion paired with the PhenoCycler will be "an obvious and core driver" for Akoya this year, given initial customer interest.
Building on the improved speed and throughput of the PhenoCycler-Fusion system, Akoya is also planning to augment its protein and RNA offerings as well as its multiplexing scale throughout the year. Specifically, McKelligon said the company will expand antibody content for fresh frozen or FFPE samples in humans or mice to serve research areas such as cancer, inflammatory disease, and neurobiology. McKelligon also said Akoya is planning to expand the multiplexing capability of the PhenoCycler assay from 50 markers to over 100, with more details to come at the upcoming American Association for Cancer Research conference in April. Additionally, the firm is planning to release additional workflow and hardware improvements to drive throughput from 10 samples to 30 samples per week, he said.
Traditionally, Akoya marketed its PhenoCycler system as a high-multiplexing, low-throughput system to the research market, and its Phenoptics platform, which it acquired from PerkinElmer in 2018, as a lower-multiplexing, high-throughput platform for translational and clinical work.
To further accelerate biomarker discovery and validation, McKelligon said the company is planning to launch new universal chemistry at the end of the year. Touting the new assay as "a best of breed" between Akoya's current high-plex Codex assay and high-throughput Opal assay, McKelligon said the chemistry will enable biomarkers discovered on the PhenoCycler-Fusion system to be validated on Fusion before advancing clinically to the Phenoptics HD platform, thus bringing researchers "the benefit of one consistent workflow and solution suite from Akoya." This universal chemistry will not only simplify the workflow, he added, but enable "cohesion and consistency" from high-plex biomarker discovery studies to high-throughput translational and clinical research programs.
With the release of PhenoCycler-Fusion, Akoya is also committed to "providing a suite of solutions for RNA analysis and spatial transcriptomics," McKelligon said, noting that the bundled platform offers Akoya "a distinct competitive advantage" by allowing it to "develop and launch multiple assays and RNA solutions without requiring a new instrument or new instrument redesign."
That said, in January Akoya announced a partnership with Minneapolis-based Bio-Techne to automate Bio-Techne's RNAScope assays on Akoya's spatial phenotyping systems, marking the company's first anticipated product launch for RNA analysis. McKelligon said the companies are planning to release the automated workflow midyear primarily for lower-plex targeted applications and validation studies. Meanwhile, for "upstream broad-scale RNA discovery applications," he said Akoya is also developing its own "proprietary spatial transcriptomics technologies," which will feature up to 1,000-plex capability and are slated to debut in 2023.
Simultaneously, Akoya is also gearing up to enter the clinical market. In November 2021, the company secured CLIA certification for its advanced biopharma solutions (ABS) lab. "This certification enables Akoya to support clinical trial enrollment studies and will drive the continued acceleration of our clinical trial partnerships," McKelligon said, highlighting the company's existing collaborations with AstraZeneca, the University of California, San Francisco, and Johns Hopkins University.
On top of these partnerships, Akoya struck a collaboration deal with Boston-based PathAI in December 2021. According to McKelligon, the deal will help Akoya "streamline biomarker discovery and validation" while identifying patients with a high likelihood of responding to immunotherapies. He said the company expects this partnership "to be a further growth driver of our ABS service business."