Swedish biotech tool provider Cellectricon this week said that revenues for the first quarter of 2006 increased 160 percent year over year, driven by sales of its flagship platform for high-throughput microfluidic-based ion channel screening.
The company also said that it has sold a CellAxess system for single-cell electroporation of difficult-to-transfect cells to the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, marking the first customer for this product since it was launched in December.
The increase in revenues may be a sign that Cellectricon's recently opened US subsidiary is making headway in the US ion-channel screening market, and could enable the company to diversify and further expand its electroporation system into the academic market.
In addition, the company has plans to further diversify with a spate of new products this summer and next year, and has already begun offering a nanofabrication service to pad its produce revenues.
Cellectricon's sales for the quarter reflect the fact that its Dynaflow high-throughput ion-channel screening tool is taking hold in big pharma, according to the company. Cellectricon has now placed at least one Dynaflow at 10 of the top 12 pharmaceutical companies, apparently adding a new pharma customer since announcing last year that it had placed Dynaflow at nine of the top 10 firms.
"The preliminary experiments [with the CellAxess electroporation system] were really promising — it seemed to work like a dream."
The privately held company, based in Gothenburg, does not disclose actual sales figures. However, Mattias Karlsson, Cellectricon's chief operating officer, wrote in an email to CBA News that approximately 95 percent of its revenues were from Dynaflow sales.
Approximately 70 percent of those sales stemmed from the actual Dynaflow system, or the instrumentation and software component, Karlsson said. The other 30 percent were from sales of Dynaflow microfludic chips.
Researchers use the microfluidic chips in combination with the Dynaflow instrument, which consists of a computer-controlled stage and patch-clamp apparatus. The stage is used to move a patch-clamped cell at the end of a pipette across distinct chemical environments flowing through the microfluidic chip, which comes in 8-, 16-, and 48-channel versions.
Cellectricon opened a US subsidiary in Gaithersburg, Md., in January 2005, and Karlsson said that Dynaflow sales are now divided almost evenly between the US and Europe. Undoubtedly a large portion of its US sales resulted from multiple placements at several of AstraZeneca's US locations (see CBA News, 7/11/2005).
The 10 pharmaceutical companies currently using DynaFlow are Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, J&J, Merck, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche, Lilly, and Wyeth, Cellectricon said.
Meanwhile, the company looks to diversify its product offerings and further expand into the academic market with the CellAxess system. Cellectricon had been planning to launch CellAxess since 2004, but instead chose to focus its resources on aggressively commercializing its flagship tool.
The company finally launched the platform in December, and this week said that it had sold an instrument to the laboratory of Häkan Westerblad, a professor of physiology and pharmacology at Karolinska Institutet.
Westerblad's lab conducts various experiments with cardiac and skeletal muscle cells in which it transfects the cells with biomolecules such as proteins and RNA to assess their effect on cell function.
"For a long time, we wanted to inject big molecules into these cells," Westerblad told CBA News. "We could do this with microelectrodes, but technically, it's very difficult. We tried traditional methods, like lipofection, and that immediately killed our cells.
"There was a demonstration here of Cellectricon's system, and it seemed to do exactly what we were interested in," he added. "With their electroporation system, you can get big molecules into cells without killing them at the same time."
There are other devices on the market for electroporating cells, but they tend to take more of a "global" approach, Westerblad said, transfecting large numbers of cells at once. This may be of use in large-scale industrial applications, but CellAxess is able to pinpoint single cells to electroporate, which fits well with his lab's research model, Westerblad said.
Karolinska has not yet received the platform, which is currently in production, but expects to shortly. But Westerblad's lab has been able to test the system extensively.
"The preliminary experiments were really promising — it seemed to work like a dream," he said.
Diversification in the Works
Cellectricon also plans to diversify further. The company said in a statement that it will continue to accelerate its R&D efforts and introduce several new products later this year and in 2007 to "aggressively address several high-growth markets within cell biology and … segments such as cell-based screening, transfection, and biomedical research.
Karlsson this week provided additional details. The first product to be launched, he said, is a Dynaflow microscope heat stage that will enable experiments at physiological temperatures, as well as experiments with cold- or heat-activated receptors. Cellectricon plans to launch this instrument in the third quarter.
"Future areas include broad cell assay coverage for drug screening and clinical areas," Karlsson said. "Our product pipeline … includes amongst others the development of in vivo and in vitro fertilization modules for the Cellaxess System, as well as next-generation multipurpose cell-based microfluidic screening platforms."
Furthermore, Cellectricon will begin to play in the service market, and possibly outside the biotechnology arena, with a new business unit that will offer microfabrication services to customers.
"Since we have unique competencies in microfabrication and a scalable in-house production facility, we see a great business opportunity in offering these services," Karlsson said. "Our main focus is, however, on providing cell-based screening products."
Cellectricon also said it has signed on its first customer in this area, Gothenburg-based Nanoxis, for whom Cellectricon will manufacture its new membrane protein chip for preparing samples prior to mass spectrometry analysis. Nanoxis' technology was developed in the lab of Owe Orwar, a professor at Chalmers University of Technology and chief scientific officer at Cellectricon.
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])