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Avantra Biosciences Raises $7M, Plans 2011 Cardiovascular Panel Launch

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This story has been updated to include comments from an Avantra Biosciences official.

By Justin Petrone

Avantra Biosciences has raised $7 million, the privately held company disclosed in a document filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission this week.

The Woburn, Mass.-based protein array company said the funds raised were in the form of equity and will not be used for a merger, acquisition, exchange offer, or other business combination transaction. According to the filing, 49 private investors took part in the round.

Avantra was founded last year by Courtagen Capital Group to commercialize the assets of Decision Biomarkers, a protein biomarker technology firm that shuttered its business and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in December 2009 (BAN 1/12/2010).

DBI was initially established as Clinical Microarrays in 2003. In 2005, it rechristened itself DBI when it launched its AvantraTQ400 Biomarker Workstation, a biochip-based immunoassay that enabled users to quantitate a panel of up to forty biomarkers per sample.

The research-use-only Avantra Biomarker Workstation consists of an assay-processing and fluorescence-imaging platform and disposable biochips that contain all the reagents required for performing multiplex biomarker assays.

"Courtagen Capital Group saw a unique opportunity in the DBI technology," Elizabeth Holland, vice president of human resources and business operations, told BioArray News this week. "DBI spent $30 million and 7 years developing a cutting-edge technology that was functional and producing exceptional results," she said. "Due to the economic climate DBI ran out of money pre-commercialization and were forced into bankruptcy."

Avantra intends to continue selling the Avantra Biomarker Workstation, as well as two panels developed by DBI: a cytokine 8-plex panel for profiling markers related to inflammatory response, and an angiogenesis 10-plex panel for measuring angiogenesis factors.

Holland said that the company is planning to launch a retooled Avantra Biomarker Workstation as well as the cardiovascular panel in the first quarter of next year, with the angiogenesis panel to follow.

"Since purchasing the assets of Decision Biomarkers from bankruptcy, Avantra has been re-manufacturing and upgrading the existing product to accommodate a high market demand and unparallel performance," she said. "We will begin commercialization in Q1 2011."

The company is also developing new panels for use with the system. "We are currently evaluating the market needs to determine what additional panels will be launched," she said. Holland declined to elaborate.

In its SEC filing, Avantra listed its new management team, including Brian McKernan as its CEO, his brother Brendan McKernan as its president, and their father Richard McKernan as chairman of the board. Other principals named in the document are secretary John Altorelli and directors Stephen McLean, a founding partner in Merrill Lynch Capital Partners; Philip Chapman; and Richard Upton.

Brian McKernan was previously CEO of Beverly, Mass.-based Agencourt Bioscience, which was bought by Beckman Coulter for $140 million in 2005. He also co-founded Agencourt Personal Genomics, which was sold to Applied Biosystems in 2006 for $120 million.

Brendan McKernan served as chief operating officer at Agencourt, and Richard McKernan served as chairman of the board. Avantra director Stephen McLean was also an investor and director at Agencourt. The McKernans and McLean are managing partners of Charlestown, Mass.-based Courtagen Capital.

There is no connection between the new management team and DBI's management team, according to Holland. She added that Avantra has managed to retain some of DBI's employees.

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