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Cartagenia Raises $5.9M to Build Focused Oncology, Reproductive Health Products; Upping Headcount

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Cartagenia said this week that it intends to use €4.3million ($5.9 million) in private financing to grow its business and to hire between 20 and 30 sales and support staff for its offices in Boston and Leuven, Belgium.

Participants in Cartagenia's current funding round included existing shareholders Capricorn ICT Arkiv, a Leuven-based ICT fund; the Flemish investment company PMV; and Gemma Frisius Fund, the venture fund of the University of Leuven. In 2011, the company raised €2.2 million ($2.9 million) from PMV-VINNOF and seed capital group Gemma Frisius Fund, and other investors. It used those funds to open its Boston office, build its market presence, and develop new products.

With the new funding, Cartagenia will specifically develop focused versions of its existing products for the oncology and reproductive health markets, and will likely launch these as individual modules on its Bench platform later this year, CEO Herman Verrelst told BioInform this week.

It's the first time that Cartagenia will sell specialized software. To date it has developed and sold licenses to software for analyzing microarray and next-generation sequencing data in various clinical settings. The main products on Cartagenia's platform are Bench Lab CNV, which researchers working in cytogenetics laboratories use to analyze and report on clinically relevant variants from array-based tests; and Bench Lab NGS, which is for analyzing and managing variant information from clinical next-generation sequencing-based analyses. Other facets of its portfolio are Bench Connector, which customers use to link workflows in Bench Lab to their laboratory information management systems and electronic health records; and the Bench Portal through which users interact with and use the Bench system.

Customers can tailor the pipelines and workflows within the Bench platform to address their unique needs and a number of clients within the oncology and prenatal diagnosis arenas have already been doing so, according to Verrelst. "We want to productize these [pipelines], package them better, pre-configure some workflows and reports, and also equip the analysis pipelines with proper data resources that are required for data interpretation," he said.

Cartagenia is considering a number of options for its specialized offerings. On the oncology front, for instance, it is contemplating developing pipelines for analyzing both copy number and single nucleotide variants or identifying more effective treatments, Verrelst said. Already, he said, Cartagenia is working on a pipeline that will enable users to link patients to experimental therapies based on their genetic profiles — it is using the pharmacogenomics database developed and licensed by Biobase, now Qiagen Wolfenbüttel for this project.

On the reproductive front, it is considering a pipeline for analyzing chromosomal anomalies that are identified from non-invasive prenatal tests. Also, "we are looking into [analyzing] CNVs that are generated on sequencing platforms," Verrelst said. Currently, "labs are experimenting with [replacing] arrays [with] sequencing devices and that's also something that we are going to support in the platform."

These targeted solutions, he said, could serve as an introduction to the Bench platform for customers who work in these areas but who may not have been exposed to the solution before. It would "show the market that we have these specializations, these references, and experience in these areas," he said. Also, dedicated NGS pipelines will likely appeal to labs that focus on particular types of testing, for example those that offer diagnostic testing for inherited conditions, he said.

Pricing for the new modules is still being discussed.

Meanwhile, Cartagenia will also continue to sell the generic versions of its software alongside the new products. The company has signed a global distribution agreement with Agilent that allows the latter to resell its Bench Lab CNV software, which is used to analyze and report copy number variants to small and medium-sized cytogenetics laboratories — a segment of the microarray-based diagnostics market that to date has not used Cartagenia's products, according to Verrelst. That's because historically, he explained, the company has peddled its products largely to clients in larger diagnostic laboratories — as a small company, it needed to prioritize where to invest its limited resources and opted to focus first on larger labs.

Some of its recent customers are the University of Nebraska and University of Wisconsin-Madison, both of whom tapped the company's Bench system to analyze, interpret, report, and share information on genomic variants in clinical diagnostic settings. Other clients include Australia's Mater Hospitals and the Life and Brain genetics lab, which is associated with University of Bonn, Germany and Groningen University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Both groups licensed Bench NGS last year for next-generation sequence variant analysis, interpretation, and reporting. Also Cartagenia's software was licensed about a year ago by the Birmingham Women's Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to support variant storage and analysis.

In the array space, "Agilent has a very large installed base [with] lots of small- to medium-sized labs," Verrelst said. "As these labs look into moving to the clinical space, they will need these more automated analysis pipelines, workflow support, and report generation [tools] and so on, so there was a good fit with the solution that we offer."

Under the terms of the reseller agreement, Cartagenia will be responsible for installing and maintaining its solutions and for training new clients. However, Agilent will set the price point for software licenses. In a separate announcement, Agilent said that it will offer use-based licenses that will make it affordable to labs with limited budgets and few bioinformatics resources. However, there will be a "consistency" between Agilent's price point and the prices that Cartagenia has set for its licenses.

On deadline, Agilent did not respond to questions regarding its marketing plans for Bench Lab CNV.

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