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908 Devices Using IPO Proceeds to Drive Adoption of Miniature Mass Spec Tech


NEW YORK – Using proceeds from its recent initial public offering, miniaturized mass spectrometry firm 908 Devices is looking to grow adoption of its technology for a variety of life sciences ranging from toxicology testing to biopharma research.

While the company continues development of its mass spec technology, its focus post-IPO is "around expanding our sales and marketing… to get more reach, and particularly aggressively building out channels in international markets," said Kevin Knopp, the company's co-founder and CEO.

Boston, Massachusetts-based 908 priced its IPO last week at $20 per share. In Tuesday afternoon trading on the Nasdaq, shares were $57.60.

The company was founded in 2012 to commercialize technology developed by Michael Ramsey, a professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina and the company's scientific founder and a member of its board. Its core technologies include microfluidic capillary-electrophoresis systems for upfront separation of samples and high-pressure mass spec analyzers that are able to operate without the vacuum conditions used in conventional systems, allowing for much smaller and cheaper instruments.

While the company initially focused on military, hazmat, and hydrocarbon processing applications, it has in recent years made inroads into the life sciences by placing instruments with a number of pharma firms and academic institutions. It has also positioned its devices as toxicology testing tools for use by public health laboratories and first responders.

908 currently offers three devices, a handheld mass spectrometer called the MX908, a capillary electrophoresis-based sample separation platform called the ZipChip, and a miniaturized benchtop mass spec system that includes the ZipChip separation technology called the Rebel. It has sold more than 1,000 MX908 devices, 31 Rebels, and 150 ZipChip units.

The company generated revenues of $21.2 million and posted a net loss of $2.6 million in the first three months of 2020. It generated $18 million in revenues and posted a net loss of $13.4 million in full-year 2019.

The MX908, which 908 launched in 2017, is used in a variety of areas including military and criminal enforcement applications like detection of explosives or chemical warfare agents. Knopp said that it has also begun carving out a niche within toxicology testing as a rapid analysis tool for first responders and public health professionals allowing them to identify drugs like fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Mass spectrometry is a key tool within toxicology and drug testing, but this work is typically done in a lab setting.

The MX908 "is a rapid triaging tool that can be used out in the field by a broad set of users to give them a very quick but accurate analysis," Knopp said. "Lab analyses are great, and some samples may need to go [to a traditional lab], but having accurate information right there allows people to quickly take action."

Knopp said that the company's Rebel device is largely used in bioprocess applications such as monitoring the output of cells being used to make products like biotherapeutics.

"You have many companies out there that are working on cell line development and choosing the best cells [for making a particular product]," he said. "Then you have to take these cells and foster them, do these combinatorial experiments to try to find the best conditions to keep those cells happy and get them producing them the therapeutic you desire with the highest titer and the best critical quality attributes."

The Rebel is used within bioprocess applications to monitor the levels of molecules including amino acids, metabolites, and other compounds key to the cells function.

Traditionally, such analyses have been done by LC-MS in core labs. "But that is a slow process," Knopp said. "Because it's being sent to that centralized lab down the street or maybe to a third party, and it just takes time to get those results back."

"[W]e are putting it right at the bioreactor," he said, noting that each instrument is able to support between five and 10 bioreactors.

908 sells consumables kits that include standards to 32 analytes of interest, allowing researchers to collect quantitative measurements of each.

The Rebel uses 908's ZipChip technology to do sample separation upfront of mass spec analysis. The company also sells the ZipChip as a standalone device for use with conventional mass specs for purposes including biotherapeutic analysis and proteomics.

The ZipChip uses capillary electrophoresis (CE) to separate samples as opposed to the more common liquid chromatography approach. CE is a good match for miniaturized mass spec in that it is compact, fast, and simple to use. Thus far, the ZipChip technology has been primarily used in biopharma research, Knopp said, but he added that 908 sees it expanding into other areas including proteomics.

"Areas like proteomics I think are just beginning [to see uptake]," he said. "As we see… demand increasing for fast, high-resolution separation, I think there will be a desire to make [sample separation] simpler, and we're going to keep that in our minds as we go forward really thinking of simpler, more accessible solutions for the proteomics space."

Miniaturized mass spec products like 908's could also soon find use in point-of-care clinical applications.

For instance, miniature mass spec could be used for real-time tissue analysis during surgery, an application that Purspec Technologies has begun exploring. Launched in 2015 to commercialize technology developed by Purdue University researchers Graham Cooks and Zheng Ouyang, the firm's president and CEO, Purspec is working with researchers at Indiana University Medical Center and in Shanghai measuring the metabolite two-hydroxyglutarate (2HG) during glioma surgery, which is used to determine the appropriate surgical approach. Currently, traditional pathology is used to assess 2HG levels, a process that can take several hours during which time the patient is still in surgery. By placing its mass spectrometers in the surgical suite, the company hopes to bring that turnaround time down to a matter of minutes.

However, Knopp said that 908 plans to wait for such applications to reach a more mature stage before exploring how its technology could be a fit.

"We'll have to wait a bit I think to really see what the requirements will be for such assays," he said. "But it is an interesting direction."