Accuri Cytometers this week announced the completion of a $13 million Series C financing round led by new investors Fidelity Biosciences and Flagship Ventures. Current investors, including Baird Venture Partners and Arboretum Ventures, also participated in the round.
An Accuri official said that the company will use the money to expand commercialization activities for its C6 flow cytometer system.
In addition, Bahaa Fam, a venture partner at Fidelity, and Harry Wilcox, a partner at Flagship Ventures, will join Accuri’s board of directors.
Accuri launched the C6 flow cytometer in the first quarter of this year (see CBA News, 4/11/08). CEO Jennifer Baird told CBA News this week that the company’s intention is to use the funds from this Series C round to support the commercialization of that product and “the ramp up of our organization to support our customers.”
Baird added that Accuri has “established sales, customer service, and manufacturing organizations,” and that the money will be used to help grow these organizations to meet demand.
According to the company website, the C6 instrument retails beginning at $35,000. An entry-level model is available for $30,000. This pricing may make the product accessible to individual labs that previously could not afford a flow cytometer that, according to industry estimates, retails for at least $100,000.
Fidelity was the first potential venture capital group that Accuri connected with, back in January, and was also instrumental in introducing the company to Flagship, said Baird. However, “they both came together at the term sheet point and gave us a joint term sheet.”
Fam referred inquiries to Accuri and Wilcox did not respond to a request for comment prior to this article’s publication. However, in a statement, Fam said, “By making flow cytometry technology more affordable, accessible, and usable, Accuri’s high-performance systems have the potential to accelerate and broaden the scope of biomedical research.”
Also in a statement, Wilcox said that “Accuri’s outstanding team has responded to the need for accessible, affordable, easy-to-use systems by completely reinventing the flow cytometer from the ground up.”
Go With the Flow
Baird said that Accuri was preparing to launch the C6 at the end of 2006, and intended to do so in 2007, but actually spent about six months in a “very robust” beta testing phase (see CBA News, 12/15/06). “We worked with a variety of labs across the country to beta test our product, so we were absolutely certain that it would meet their needs.”
These beta testers included Larry Sklar, a professor at the University of New Mexico Medical School and head of the National Institutes of Health-funded Molecular Libraries Screening Center located there; and Bill Hyun, manager of the Laboratory for Cell Analysis core facility at the University of California at San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“We see the increased accessibility of flow cytometers as expanding the application of flow cytometry.”
“We are interested in doing high-throughput analysis for discovery applications in conjunction with our own delivery system, the HyperCyt, using 384-well plates, Sklar told CBA News in an e-mail. His lab uses green fluorescence for its biological assays and red fluorescence for multiplexing cells or beads.
“We are intrigued by the possibility that flow cytometry technology will be used for discovery in individual laboratories in the way that plate readers are now used,” said Sklar.
He added that his team found the technology to be very easy to use. As part of the NIH Roadmap Molecular Libraries Screening Center Network, they have ten flow cytometers. Sklar said that, “Many members of our team evaluated the instrument and wanted to add it to our portfolio.”
Accuri also had people at small biotechs and research labs and core labs around the country beta testing the C6.
Baird said that the beta testers were among Accuri’s very first customers. For its part, Sklar’s lab decided to purchase the C6.
The C6 features a red laser, a blue laser, a scatter detector, and four fluorescence detectors. Accuri’s competitors in the flow cytometry space include market leaders Becton Dickinson and Beckman Coulter, as well as Guava Technologies. Only Guava makes an instrument at a price point close to the C6.
“We see the increased accessibility of flow cytometers as expanding the application of flow cytometry,” said Baird. Flow cytometry is an extremely powerful tool, and by bringing the price point down while keeping the performance level high, “we are actually making that power more accessible,” she added.
The company has received positive feedback on the C6’s performance and ease-of-use, said Baird. She went on to say that those two things, combined with the instrument’s affordability, actually makes it something that allows, for example, lab directors to let their grad students use the instrument, while reducing the amount of training that they need, allowing them to get their data on their time schedule, and increasing the convenience.
The structure and intent of the company is to combine performance, ease-of-use, and affordability to create products that enable routine life science to go forward, Baird explained. To wit, “We are actually seeing a lot of interest from those who would not traditionally be users of flow cytometry,” she said.
Traditionally, flow cytometry users have been in highly specialized fields — for example, immunologists. Baird mentioned that Accuri is seeing interest and advancement in the use of flow cytometry in cell biology and other fields, such as environmental science and agricultural science.
“What is exciting about flow is that you can do a lot of analysis on thousands of cells per second, to look at a bunch of different parameters,” she said. She mentioned that Accuri has had a lot of interest from plant biologists, who are not generally as well funded as life science and medical science researchers.
For now, Accuri will be selling the C6 in the US, but plans to expand its distribution worldwide over the next several years, said Baird. “We will also be expanding into other fields of research where the C6’s performance, ease-of-use, and affordability is actually really useful.”
She also mentioned that the company has several products in the pipeline, such as the CSampler, a 96-well automated sampler for the C6, which the company plans to launch next year.