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Biocartis Buys Philips Molecular Dx Platform 'Inspired' by Consumer Electronics Tech


This story was originally published on Feb. 10.

By Ben Butkus

Swiss molecular diagnostics company Biocartis said today that it has agreed to acquire from Royal Philips Electronics a molecular diagnostic testing platform that incorporates nucleic acid sample preparation and amplification technologies.

The platform, whose design was inspired by various consumer electronics innovations, will be developed for a wide range of DNA and RNA molecular diagnostic testing, including in oncology and infectious diseases.

Biocartis and Philips have worked together to develop the instrument for the better part of the past year, and have kept their research under wraps. Indeed, neither company has yet to publish nor present information about the technology, Biocartis CEO Rudi Pauwels told PCR Insider today.

Pauwels said that the companies will publicize more technical details about the platform in the coming months, but told PCR Insider that the core feature of the instrument is a new and unique DNA and RNA sample-preparation technology.

"Philips has developed a fully integrated system that … starts from a clinical sample, and prepares it in such a way that DNA and RNA can be … analyzed," Pauwels said. "It's a fully integrated RNA and DNA sample-prep system that allows the sample be processed or extracted and analyzed."

Pauwels, who in the past founded life science companies such as Tibotec, Virco, and Galapagos Genomics, said that inspiration for the platform came from some time he spent working in the semiconductor industry. "I was really struck by the types of processes and applied technologies used in the consumer electronics industry," Pauwels said. "That was a very big inspiration."

When Pauwels returned to the life sciences arena with Biocartis, the company developed a prototype of the instrument that borrowed concepts from consumer electronics. He then approached Philips – which is more known for its consumer electronics and medical imaging products – about a possible collaboration.

"Both Philips and myself and Biocartis really wanted to have a fresh look at the engineering part of diagnostic instruments," Pauwels said. "We [signed] the first contract agreement where we funded the work more than a year ago, and practically, we put this in motion about six months ago."

Pauwels said the platform is a "really bottom-up, complete new look at the process," and added that while "most instruments in labs today try to mechanize or sometimes miniaturize the process," Biocartis and Philips designed "a really flexible way, and the most efficient way to utilize optical and other elements."

He declined to provide any more information on the platform, but said that he expected the companies to reveal more technical details in the coming months.

Biocartis, which is located in the scientific park of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, had already been developing its own molecular diagnostic technologies including digitally encoded microcarriers for capturing target biomolecules from samples; disposable microfluidic cartridges for sample input, processing, and analysis; compact instrumentation to use with the microcarriers and cartridges; and highly specific nucleic acid detection and isothermal amplification, according to its website.

In October, the company raised €10 million ($14.9 million at the time) in Series A financing to integrate those technologies into a multiplexed, molecular diagnostics platform to quantify and amplify a variety of analytes, such as proteins, nucleic acids, and small molecules.

Pauwels told PCR Insider today that the technology it will acquire from Philips has a "limited number of elements that are similar" to the technology that Biocartis is developing; and that the work Biocartis has been doing in the area of multiplexing –– "especially in the sample prep area" –– is highly complementary to the new platform.

"It will allow us to extend the capabilities of what this Philips technology is all about," Pauwels said. Meantime, in terms of DNA identification and analysis, Pauwels said that the two technologies are more "synergistic."

Under the terms of the acquisition agreement, Biocartis will finance future platform developments and be responsible for commercializing the platform, the firms said. All platform-related assets, including the relevant Philips patents and technology know-how, plus an undisclosed number of existing Philips staff members, will be transferred to Biocartis.

In addition, Biocartis has formed a Dutch subsidiary called Biocartis BV to be located at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, where it will have close access to the R&D facilities and services of Philips Corporate Technologies.

Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.

Gottfried Dutiné, executive vice president of Philips and global head of markets and innovation, said in a statement that in Biocartis Philips has found "a highly innovative and entrepreneurial partner that is committed to bringing a cutting-edge molecular diagnostics platform to market based on advanced technology developed by Philips.

"Biocartis' vision of the future of molecular diagnostics, the technologies they have developed within the space of a few years and the proven track record of its key management in the pharmaceutical and diagnostic sector have convinced us of the value of this agreement," Dutiné added.