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Akoya Targets Translational, Clinical Markets With Phenoptics Acquisition

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – With the acquisition of PerkinElmer's Phenoptics multispectral imaging platform, Akoya Biosciences is positioning itself to address translational and clinical research markets.

According to Akoya CEO Brian McKelligon, the Phenoptics platform complements Akoya's CODEX tissue imaging system by offering a highly automated, high-throughput imaging platform that can be used to translate discoveries made on the CODEX platform.

"What we have now is really a product continuum with the CODEX system ideally suited for the discovery work, for finding relevant markers, and the throughput and fidelity and sensitivity and resolution of the Phenoptics platform [is] ideally suited for larger translational and clinical research studies," he said.

Akoya announced the acquisition last month and the launch of what it is calling the Phenoptics 2.0 platform last week. The acquisition was made by private equity firm Telegraph Hill Partners, which owns Akoya. On a conference call following release of its Q3 earnings results, PerkinElmer CFO James Mock said the company sold the platform for $37 million. He added that the business had posted year-to-date revenues of $23 million.

McKelligon declined to say whether PerkinElmer obtained any interest in Akoya as part of the deal or whether it would work with the company as it develops the Phenoptics platform but pointed to comments made by Robert Friel, PerkinElmer's CEO, president, and chairmen, on the Q3 earnings call.

"We will continue to partner with Akoya on advanced tissue imaging technology to realize the potential of this technology to benefit immuno-oncology and other areas of disease research and treatments," Friel said.

Menlo Park, California-based Akoya was founded in late 2015 to commercialize technology developed in the lab of Stanford University researcher Garry Nolan, a co-founder of the company.

The CODEX platform uses oligonucleotide-linked antibodies to detect proteins of interest in tissue samples. Capable of measuring dozens of different protein targets in a piece of tissue, the system is designed to interface with conventional fluorescence microscopes, enabling them to image samples with high levels of multiplexing and at single-cell resolution.

The key to the system is the use of antibodies labeled with oligo barcodes. Researchers can stain their sample of interest with as many antibodies as they like (typically to between 25 and 50 targets, according to the company). They then add reagents targeting not the antibodies but the bound oligos, causing those oligos to fluoresce, making them detectable via microscope. By analyzing the sample iteratively — exciting a set of three oligos, denaturing them and stripping them from the sample, then repeating the processes with the next set of three — researchers can collect data on many more proteins than is possible using conventional fluorescence microscopy.

Akoya launched an early-access program for the CODEX system this summer, placing the platform in 10 sites around the country. McKelligon said it will ship the first commercial versions of the system at the end of Q4.

"We're in the early stage of commercialization of a product that in terms of the product maturity and the breadth of throughput is really a discovery tool," he said. According to Nolan, his lab has multiplexed as many as 120 markers in a single tissue sample using the system, and Terry Lo, who led development of the Phenoptics platform at PerkinElmer and joined Akoya as president as part of the Phenoptics acquisition, noted this week that the company plans to release an "ultra-high plexing capability" for the CODEX later this year.

However, at that level of multiplexing, the system can run only one or two samples a day, McKelligon said. According to Akoya, its Phenoptics 2.0 platform can perform whole-slide scans looking at up to seven analytes in under six minutes, making it better suited to the higher-throughput work required to take biomarkers from discovery through clinical validation.

Acquisition of the Phenoptics portfolio will allow Akoya to both better serve CODEX customers who are interested in translating markers they discover on the CODEX system and attract customers who are primarily interested in translational and clinical research, McKelligon said.

It could also allow the company to draw researchers who are interested in further validating their markers after initially discovery them on one of the several multiplexed protein imaging platforms the CODEX competes with, he noted.

"We think this is a rapidly emerging and significant market, this field of multiplexing immunofluorescence and spatial analysis of tissues," he said.

Indeed, highly-multiplexed, high-resolution tissue imaging is a fast growing research area with a number of companies offering platforms addressing this market. For instance, last year, Fluidigm launched its Hyperion Imaging Mass Cytometry platform, which allows researchers to add sample spatial and structural data to the multiplexed molecular analyses enabled by the company's traditional mass cytometry systems. The imaging system was developed in part by Bernd Bodenmiller, assistant professor for quantitative biology at the University of Zurich and another of Nolan's postdocs.

IONPath, another startup based on technology developed in Nolan's lab, plans to launch a mass-spec-based multiplexed imaging system next year.

Additionally, traditional mass spec vendors continue to move forward with MALDI imaging research. Bruker, for instance, has begun working with commercial and academic pathology labs in Europe with the aim of developing clinically relevant MALDI imaging assays.

Gordon Mills, formerly at MD Anderson Cancer Center and now head of precision oncology at Oregon Health & Science University's Knight Cancer Institute, is working to adapt NanoString's nCounter platform to measure large multiplexes of proteins in tissue while retaining spatial information.

While these platforms compete to varying extents with the CODEX in the discovery space, Lo said he believed the Phenoptics system was unique in the validation and translation space in terms of being able to measure multiple markers in a high-throughput, highly automated fashion.

Ultimately, the company hopes to develop the Phenoptics system into a clinical platform, McKelligon said.

"Currently, I would say today we have a lot of momentum in the clinical research, clinical study space," he said. "And that will hopefully be the right stepping stone for us to be able to move forward to development of a clinical solution."

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