NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Belgian bioinformatics firm UgenTec said today that it has raised €2.15 million (about $2.3 million) in funding from current investors and a credit facility of BNP Paribas Fortis.
This adds to $1.4 million in funding that the company raised from investors earlier this year that it said it would use to develop new functionality for its software, increase its headcount, and expand its business in Europe and in the US. Those funds also supported its efforts to obtain both CE-IVD marking for its software as well as ISO 13485 certification, Tom Martens, UgenTec's managing director and co-founder, told GenomeWeb this week.
UgenTec plans to use the current round of funds to further expand its sales efforts and to develop new features for its PCR data processing and interpretation software that will be released in 2017. This will include improvements that will make the software simpler to use, according to Martens. It will also support efforts to develop custom functionality for the software based on customers' needs and requests, he said.
A spinoff of Leuven University, UgenTec develops and markets FastFinder, a software platform that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning methods to automate the interpretation of raw data from PCR experiments, including standardizing time-consuming parts of the PCR interpretation process such as experimental set-up quality management, data archiving, and so on. The software accepts run files from common PCR cyclers and then applies intelligent algorithms to automatically interpret the data and transform it into a list of validated true positives and true negatives. Automating the interpretation processes with FastFinder helps these users reduce the time spent on interpretation from hours to minutes, according to Martens.
UgenTec targets molecular testing laboratories that are looking for tools to make their testing workflows more efficient. It also targets diagnostic assay manufacturers looking for software that they can pair with commercial assays that they distribute to their customers.
The way the company works with its clients, Martens explained, is that if a diagnostic assay manufacturer or laboratory wants to use FastFinder, UgenTec's researchers meet with the client to determine how best to automate their data interpretation processes and procedures and come up with a roadmap for validating and integrating their tests and assays into the software.
This includes looking at the clients' interpretation workflows and processes including what kind of cyclers are used for the assay as well as quality control steps. Depending on the size of the client and the number of assays that they want integrated, this process can take weeks or months, Martens said. After UgenTec integrates the assays into FastFinder, labs and diagnostic companies can then purchase licenses to use the software with their tests. Martens declined to disclose how much UgenTec charges for licenses.
One of the key benefits of FastFinder, according to Martens, is that it helps customers standardize and automate the time-consuming data interpretation parts of their workflows. Most steps within PCR workflows have been automated — for example, there are robots that can handle sample preparation and data extraction for these experiments — but the data interpretation at the end still requires scientists to manually go through the results, check for accuracy, and remove false positives.
Furthermore, although companies that develop PCR cyclers offer data interpretation software with their systems, most laboratories have more than one PCR cycler running internally and require an independent solution that is able to work across systems, Martens said. FastFinder accepts data from cyclers developed by companies such as Qiagen, Cepheid, Agilent, and Bio-Rad.
UgenTec claims to have contracts with multiple laboratories and diagnostic assay manufacturing companies. Martens told GenomeWeb that the company has more than 10 customers in its roster but he declined to provide specific names. However, he did say that UgenTec does intend to eventually disclose who some of its clients are including several large diagnostics companies that have large assay portfolios. The company is also working on a white paper with some of its lab clients that will highlight the advantages of using FastFinder including details on time savings in terms of data interpretation, improvements in quality, and more.
UgenTec was founded in 2014. The company currently has about 20 employees, about half of whom have information technology backgrounds while the other half are trained molecular biologists.