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FlexGen Raises Financing to Commercialize Arrayer, Develop Applications

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FlexGen this week announced that it has closed "several million euros" in private-equity financing and said it plans to use the cash to further optimize its arrayer for use in a number of applications including genomic selection for second-generation sequencing and biomarker validation.

Specifically FlexGen will use the financing to optimize the protocols for its genomic-selection application and to start building a sales and marketing force that "will become more visible in the second half of this year," CEO Fred Dom told BioArray News this week.

The company is also looking to hire additional molecular biologists to round out its R&D team to work toward its goal of placing additional systems in Europe and, perhaps, North America.

"Our first sales were in the Netherlands, and we will be careful to work with a limited number of customers, mainly in Europe, but also in the US," Dom said.

He added that the firm is "set for awhile" in terms of financing.

Investors participating in the round included BioGeneration Ventures and Crédit Agricole Private Equity. As a result, joining FlexGen's board will be Wil Hazenberg, a partner at BioGeneration, and Emmanuelle Coutanceau, an associate at Crédit Agricole.

"We are impressed with the capabilities of the company's custom microarray bench top machines, [which] we believe will have a significant impact on next-generation sequencing efforts by providing a unique and fast method for pre-selection," Hazenberg said in a statement.

Founded in 2004, FlexGen is developing technology invented by researchers at Dutch Space, a European Aeronautic Defense and Space company, and the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. The company's flagship product, the FlexArrayer for custom microarray synthesis, used on-glass synthesis of oligonucleotides to fabricate arrays. The platform also relies on a set of mirrors that specifically activate the spots on which nucleotide additions are to take place.

The FlexArrayer can produce one array per day and spot features as small as 30 nanometers with probe lengths up to 80 nucleotides. The arrays are manufactured in a 1-inch by 3-inch format, and are compatible with standard hybridization and scanning devices, according to the firm.

"Our advantage [over other arrayer technologies] is that we can place an instrument on-site," which "makes the pipeline workflow more efficient," said Dom. "We have a real open platform, and our arrays are compatible with all that [which] downstream research requires."

FlexGen's recent cash infusion from BioGeneration Ventures and Crédit Agricole Private Equity follows several other rounds of financing. The company's primary investors in 2004 were VenGen and TailWind, both Dutch venture capital firms. Last year, FlexGen also acquired additional capital from ABN AMRO, currently owned by RFS Holdings, a consortium of Royal Bank of Scotland Group, the Government of the Netherlands, and Banco Santander.

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Genomic Selection

By looking to optimize its genomic-selection application, FlexGen will be moving into a market already served by several companies, including Agilent Technologies, Roche NimbleGen, Febit, RainDance Technologies, and LC Sciences.

Of these competitors, the company with perhaps the most similar offering is Febit, which this month expects to launch its HybSelect application for sequence capture (see BAN 2/17/2009). The HybSelect method uses Febit's Geniom instrument and will be made available both as a service and as a standalone application for Geniom owners.

Joop Van Helvoort, FlexGen's chief scientific officer, told BioArray News this week that FlexGen's advantages in the sequence-capture market include its ability to quickly make arrays on site, and the fact that the FlexArrayer is an open system that uses standard microarray slides.

"It takes time to order and receive arrays" from FlexGen's rivals, Van Helvoort said. "Our customers at the LUMC, for example, would like to do more experiments within a shorter amount of time and with shorter development cycles," he said.

FlexGen's genomic-selection application has been supported by a €1.2 million ($1.5 million) European EUREKA grant, Van Helvoort said. Partners include Johan den Dunnen and Gert-Jan van Ommen at the LUMC's department of human genetics, and Mark Bradley, a professor of high-throughput chemical biology at the University of Edinburgh.

In addition to its Genomic Selection application, FlexGen is taking part in two biomarker validation projects under the umbrella of the Center for Translational Molecular Medicine, a €150 million private-public effort funded by the Dutch government begun last April.

The first project, Circulating Cells, aims to investigate circulating cells such as leukocytes and blood platelets to see if they carry biomarkers that may help discriminate patients with an increased risk of developing multiple unstable plaques, and quantify that risk. Circulating Cells is being coordinated by Gerard Pasterkamp, a professor at the University Medical Center Utrecht's Laboratory of Experimental Cardiology.

The second project, called BioChip, targets the development of new diagnostic tests for acute leukemia and multiple myeloma. The project aims to identify the different subgroups of leukemia or multiple myeloma by observing genetic differences in patients' tumors. The project, coordinated by Bob Löwenberg, chair of hematology at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, also seeks to assess and select the optimal treatment strategy for individual patients, according to CTMM's website.

According to Van Helvoort, Flexgen's platform is being used in both indications to optimize probe sequences on the arrays to help ensure researchers have a better chance of targeting their SNP or expressed gene of interest.

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