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Roka Bioscience Raises $20M to Commercialize Food Safety Assays, Instruments


By Ben Butkus

Roka Bioscience, a 2009 Gen-Probe spinoff developing molecular tests for industrial applications, said today that it has recently completed a $20 million Series C round of equity financing to help fund commercialization of its first molecular tests and instrument platforms for food safety.

The new financing brings the total amount raised since the company's formation to $57.2 million. All existing investors, including OrbiMed Advisors, New Enterprise Associates, TPG Bioech, and Gen-Probe, participated in the Series C round.

Roka, which is headquartered in Warren, NJ, but has manufacturing facilities in San Diego, spun out of Gen-Probe to develop molecular assays for biopharmaceutical production, water and food safety testing, and other industrial applications.

The company has exclusive licensing rights to various Gen-Probe nucleic acid-based tests and instrumentation for use in industrial applications.

"Our focus is on industrial applications of the Gen-Probe technology," Paul Thomas, CEO and president of Roka, told PCR Insider. "And our initial focus is in the food safety market."

Examples of Gen-Probe-developed or –owned assay technologies being used by Roka include ribosomal RNA-targeting nucleic acid probe assays; transcription-mediated amplification; hybridization protection assays; and target capture sample prep technology.

Roka also plans to run its food testing assays on an instrument that does not yet have a brand name but essentially is Gen-Probe's Panther, a fully automated and integrated molecular testing system featuring throughput of about 275 samples in eight hours with hands-on time of less than an hour; or unattended processing of up to 500 samples in 12 hours.

"We are launching our first set of assays on what Gen-Probe refers to as its Panther instrument," Thomas said. "We also have in development a point-of-use device … that can be used at a plant location, versus a central lab location. We are developing that ourselves, and it's probably [one year] or so away from beta site testing."

Roka plans to introduce its first two food safety assays, for detecting Listeria and Salmonella, at the International Association of Food Protection meeting next week in Milwaukee, Wis.

"We are initiating beta site launch with a handful of key customers, basically starting with the IAFP," Thomas said. "Several large contract testing labs, as well as corporate food customers, will be testing our first assays on the Panther instrument. The first assay will be for Listeria, followed by Salmonella."

Thomas added that Roka will likely continue beta site evaluation "with a handful of customers" through the fall, "and begin … a broader commercial launch in November."

Have topics you'd like to see covered in PCR Insider? Contact the editor at bbutkus [at] genomeweb [.] com.

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