Amnis this week said that it has closed a Series C financing round worth $11.3 million — a "significant oversubscription" that is almost double the amount originally targeted by the company.
The unexpected windfall is expected to help the company further develop its flagship ImageStream flow-based cellular analysis system, according to Guy Page, director of marketing and business development for Amnis.
In addition, the money will allow Amnis to ramp up production of its current instrument platform to keep up with demand, and to hire additional staffers in marketing and R&D, Page said. It is unclear how many additional staffers Amnis plans to take on. The company currently employs around 30 people, Page said.
Amnis began the financing round early last year with the goal of raising $6 million. In August, it said it had raised approximately half of the targeted amount, and would begin using the money to expand its commercial operations and accelerate clinical application and product-development programs already in progress.
"When we did that announcement, we were halfway there, so it served as an interim thing," Page told CBA News last week. "To complete the fundraising, we obviously went out and talked to a lot of people."
"This bluebird flies in at the last minute and says, 'We're very interested, as well,' so we pushed back some chairs and made some room."
Participating in the round were several existing Amnis investors, as well as two new investors: Crown Venture Fund of Chicago and MedVenture Associates of Emeryville, Calif. According to Page, Amnis received "a very strong expression of interest" from the Crown Venture Fund, whose contribution, along with a few smaller contributions from others, was expected to close out the $6 million round.
"But just when all the t's were being crossed and i's were being dotted, MedVenture Associates came back in and said 'You talked with us before, and we're actually very interested,'" Page said. "They came up with a proposal to add a lot more money, and so we kind of had to re-think how this would change the scenario."
One of the ways the scenario has changed is that Crown Venture Funds' Richard Robb and MedVenture Associates' Annette Campbell-White have joined Amnis' board of directors.
After discussions with Amnis' board, existing investors, and Crown Venture Funds, "everybody was able to come to acceptable terms," Page said.
"The original target was $6 million, and this bluebird flies in at the last minute and says, 'We're very interested, as well,' so we pushed back some chairs and made some room," Page added.
Page said that the unanticipated cash influx does not significantly change Amnis' business strategy.
"It makes things go a lot faster, that's the main thing," he said. "The strategic plan for the company has been in place for a long time, but the style is pretty tight and boot-strappy, so while the product-development programs have been there, we've been working at it slowly and steadily.
"Now, with the additional funding, we can accelerate those programs — hire more people, invest in the inventory, and build it up a lot faster," Page added.
In September, David Basiji, Amnis' CEO, told CBA News that the early money was earmarked primarily for sales and marketing and commercialization efforts for the current product (see CBA News, 9/5/2005), the ImageStream 100.
"For image data, there really isn't a price. It's just a question of whether you want to use it or not."
This product, a combination microscope-flow cytometer, is currently capable of generating up to six high-resolution images of cells in flow at rates of up to 300 cells per second. To do this, it uses illumination from both a brightfield source and a 488-nm laser to generate composite images, which are then spectrally decomposed into as many as six component images and captured using a time delay integration CCD camera.
At the time, Basiji said any additional money would essentially go toward two new projects: the first and most near-term being the development of a cell sorter based on the basic ImageStream technology, which is expected to compete in the flow cytometry market; and in the longer term, a hematology instrument.
This week Page reiterated Amnis' strategy for penetrating the flow cytometry market.
"Our view is that this is a broadly applicable fundamental technology," Page said. "In the simplest form, it brings imaging capability into flow cytometry. It would be fair to say that our belief is that image data is so useful, that ultimately some years in the future all flow cytometry will be done with imaging, because there is no reason not to."
According to Page, the current limitations are primarily computational — a hurdle that is consistent throughout the automated imaging and high-content screening industry.
"It's a data-intensive format, but like everything that's data intensive, barriers fall naturally with time and the development of computational power," Page said. "For image data, there really isn't a price. It's just a question of whether you want to use it or not. If you can get it, you may use it or not, but if it doesn't cost you anything, why not get it?"
Therefore, Amnis will seemingly focus more on trying to place ImageStream platforms in core flow cytometry laboratories, as opposed to aggressively marketing it toward individuals for specific applications.
"Instead of saying '[here's] the thing we're focusing on,' we just see it as the next generation of flow cytometry, and applicable to anything," Page said. "We think of it like mass spec: it doesn't have a killer [application], but you can do a lot of stuff on it because it's a technology that's broadly applicable."
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])