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Cellenion Expands Automated Cell Sorting Market, Targets Spheroids

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NEW YORK – Cellenion, a French company making biological dispensing equipment, is expanding its lineup of automated sorting instruments for cells and cellular aggregates with the new SpheroOne, while working on new kits and applications for its CellenOne platform.

The SpheroOne, launched last month, is built to accommodate 3D cell cultures ranging from 80 µm to 600 µm across, such as spheroids — multicellular formations that can occur when cells are not cultured on flat surfaces — and even small organoids, that are often used in pharmaceutical testing.

"Current offerings suffer from low throughput, inconsistent sorting, and intensive manual dispensing," said Guilhem Tourniaire, Cellenion's managing director and founder. "We can plate 96 organoids in five minutes.

"SpheroOne is going to play a significant role toward replacing animal models in preclinical research as it allows automated sorting, enables development of higher-quality and -yield models, and improves outcome of 3D cell assays."

Like the firm's CellenOne instrument, SpheroOne uses imaging of the nozzle to avoid dispensing doublets and empty droplets. The imaging can also provide information on morphology and fluorescence. "We use a 4X magnification and can see some features of the organoids, like the presence of lumen [cavities in a tubular structure] or cysts," Tourniaire said.

Isolated particles are ready for assaying immediately after dispensing. Often, this involves cytotoxicity screening in drug development. Bulk sequencing is an option, too, but "single-cell sequencing is more informative," Tourniaire said. Spheroids could be dissociated and dispensed using the firm's CellenOne single-cell dispenser, he suggested.

The move will help the company target the biopharma market. "It's not people working on 10 spheroids a week that will be interested in this," he said.

Based in Lyon, France, Cellenion is a subsidiary of Sweden's Bico, formerly Cellink, which acquired it last year as part of its 80 million ($92.7 million) purchase of Scienion.

Tourniaire declined to provide revenues for his company, but Bico, which is publicly traded, reported that its bioautomation group, which includes Cellenion, Scienion, and Ginolis, recorded revenues of SEK 230.1 million ($26.9 million) in the first six months of 2021.

In August, Cellenion and Scienion entered into an exclusive partnership with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to license PNNL's NanoPots, a microfluidic sample preparation platform for mass spectrometry.

Cellenion has about 35 employees and is expected to grow by about 50 percent in the next year, Tourniaire said.

Spheroids and 3D cell culturing are a growing market, with significant interest from pharmaceutical companies. A recent study led by Stanford University's Michael Bassik using CRISPR genome editing screens in a 3D cell culture model showed that gene edits have different effects in those models than they do with traditional 2D cell cultures. Also, they suggested that CRISPR-edited 3D lung cancer spheroids more accurately recapitulated phenotypes of in vivo tumors than CRISPR-edited 2D cultures.

In addition, ZPredicta partnered with Laboratory Corporation of America last year to develop and commercialize tumor-specific, preclinical 3D cell culture models.

Neither Cellenion nor its customers have published any data yet on samples processed with SpheroOne, and Tourniaire said he did not expect to see any before the beginning of 2022. He said the firm has begun collaborations with external labs on the instrument but declined to disclose them.

He also did not disclose the instrument's list price. "It's competitively priced compared to what's available on the market," he said, including the Yamaha Cell Handler and Union Biometrica large particle flow cytometer, as well as "more basic micromanipulators on inverted microscopes."

The SpheroOne is built on different technology than the CellenOne, but if it follows a similar path to market, the company will likely be pleased.

CellenOne, launched in 2018, is finding a home as a component of certain platforms, such as the single-cell library preparation platform DLP+, developed by researchers at the University of British Columbia. The instrument helped scale a method that had previously used microfluidics by allowing it to use open nanowells on SmartChips from Takara Bio. "This is enormously easier," said Robin Coope, instrumentation group leader at the BC Cancer Agency Genome Sciences Centre. "[CellenOne] has the ability to spot roughly 0.5 nanoliter volume with great spatial accuracy."

The doublet rate is "very low," he said. "It's more likely you get an empty when you thought you had one."

"The reason we want to do open nanowell single-cell analysis is because it gives us flexibility in the methods we use," he said, whether that's whole-genome sequencing or other assays. When running well, the system can spot about 1,000 cells in a half hour.

The DLP+ method has spread to several other labs, including at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Francis Crick Institute, Coope said, bringing CellenOne with it. Cellenion declined to provide sales figures on CellenOne, either in terms of revenues or installed base.

Cellenion is now focused on adding new kits to go with the CellenOne. Earlier this month, it released ProteoChip 12*16, a new single-cell proteomics sample prep kit for mass spec, developed in part with the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna.

Tourniaire said the company is looking at other single-cell omics applications but declined to provide further details.

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