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Akoya Using $153M IPO Funding to Expand Commercial Reach, Drive Technology Development

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NEW YORK — Fresh off a $153 million initial public offering, tissue imaging firm Akoya Biosciences is looking to expand its commercial reach and drive development of new product offerings.

"Continuing to grow our marketing and sales and support organization is really our number one priority," said Akoya CEO Brian McKelligon, noting that the company saw "huge opportunity in spatial biology."

Since launching its first tissue imaging systems in 2018, the Marlborough, Massachusetts-based company has placed 132 of its CODEX systems, which are aimed primarily at the research market, and 455 of its Phenoptics systems, a higher-throughput platform targeted to translational and clinical work.

Akoya's CODEX system uses oligonucleotide-linked antibodies to detect proteins of interest in tissue samples. Researchers can stain their sample of interest with upwards of 50 markers. 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 several oligos, denaturing them and stripping them from the sample, then repeating the processes with the next set — researchers can collect data on many more proteins than is possible using conventional fluorescence microscopy. Also notable, McKelligon said, is the fact that the platform provides these multiplexed measurements at the single-cell level across full tissue slides.

At that level of multiplexing, however, CODEX offers relatively low throughput — around one to two samples per day. In 2018, Akoya acquired PerkinElmer's Phenoptics multispectral imaging platform, which can analyze whole slides looking at up to seven analytes in under six minutes.

McKelligon said thus far CODEX has seen strong uptake among biomarker discovery groups in biopharma and contract research organizations as well as academic groups, particularly those that are working with biopharma. He added that the relatively low price of the system — under $100,000 — meant that it could be purchased directly by principal investigators as opposed to being housed just in imaging cores.

The Phenoptics platform, meanwhile, provides the kind of throughput and analytical robustness required for applications like clinical trial work, McKelligon said.

Last year, the company inked a collaboration agreement with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center to use the Phenoptics platform to develop biomarkers to help select the most effective neoadjuvant and adjuvant immunotherapies for patients with early-stage breast cancer.

And this month, Akoya announced an agreement with AstraZeneca to use the Phenoptics platform for spatial biomarker analysis in immuno-oncology drug development, clinical trials, and biomarker discovery. The company also announced this month the rollout of a new service offering it is calling Advanced Biopharma Solutions, which it is targeting to biopharma firms looking to implement the company's imaging tools in their translational pathology and immunotherapy work.

McKelligon described these moves as part of the company's effort "to be a lot more proactive in partnering around our portfolio."

In addition to driving increased adoption of the two platforms, Akoya also looks to spur development of new technologies and applications with the IPO funds. McKelligon cited as an example of this effort the launch in May of the company's Imaging Innovators Network, through which it plans to select an initial set of 10 researchers to work on new uses for the CODEX system.

"We're leveraging … our customers in the field and our partners in the industry to move out platforms forward to accelerate adoption [of CODEX]," he said. "We are really actively exploring application expansion on CODEX."

One likely move will be to offer measurement of molecules beyond protein, though McKelligon said the company was not currently ready to discuss applications like RNA analysis.

This week, a team led by Janis Taube, a professor of pathology and dermatology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, published a study in Science presenting a new platform for analysis of multiplexed protein measurements made on the Phenoptics system.

Called AstroPath, the analysis platform applies algorithms developed for astronomy research to the analysis of pathology data. In the study, the researchers used the Phenoptics system to look at six markers in tumor tissue from 98 patients with melanoma who were undergoing anti-PD-1 treatment, finding that they were able to develop models that, the authors wrote, "were highly predictive of objective response and stratified long-term patient outcomes after anti–PD1–based therapies."

The AstroPath platform is compatible with pathology data generated by a variety of systems and imaging technologies, but the Science study relied on data from Akoya exclusively.

McKelligon highlighted the study as a demonstration of the potential value of the CODEX and Phenotypic platforms for informing patient care and said that the company hoped to work with the JHU researchers to use the platforms for larger clinical studies and the exploration of additional signatures for other cancers and disease types.

"I think the first phase is to leverage these learnings and methodology to expand our outreach efforts to partner with biopharma in their clinical study efforts," he said. "Let's take this panel, and let's test it at a broader, even sort of an industrial scale, to establish the true clinical predictive power of this panel and this algorithm and this approach."

He added that the company has begun discussions with potential biopharma partners about the discoveries from the AstroPath paper and how firms might work with Akoya and JHU on further study of the findings.

From there, the company aims to explore how it could offer the panel developed in the Science study "as a more standardized offering to our broader customer base," McKelligon said, though he said that this kind of "full productization" of the panel was further off.

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