In its third-quarter conference call last week, Ciphergen laid out a three-pronged marketing strategy for 2004: a push to get customers to automate existing systems, continued expansion of biomarker research into the clinical space, and an aggressive entry into the diagnostics market.
“At this point, we are recognized as the clear leader in this emerging field [of biomarkers]. We are now evolving toward our next phase, which is focused on aggressive expansion of marketing programs and increasing our penetration of key markets,” Ciphergen’s CEO, Bill Rich, said during the call.
Rich divided the market for proteomics into three parts: research proteomics, which includes traditional basic science approaches; clinical proteomics, which mainly focuses on biomarker discovery and now on the development of diagnostics; and process proteomics, which includes the sorbents business that Ciphergen picked up when it acquired BioSepra in 2001. The general plan, Rich said, was to tailor products directly to each of these defined markets.
On the research proteomics side, Ciphergen is banking on sales of automated upgrades and a slew of marketing campaigns to drive further sales of its ProteinChip and SELDI systems, which chief financial officer Matthew Hogan said were suffering along with other vendors’ offerings due to general “soft” spending on capital equipment, despite a rebound in sales to pharma. “Over the last two quarters, one-quarter to one-third of our new units were being sold with some sort of automation or advanced software, and we have a new campaign underway focusing on customers who have no or limited automation,” Hogan said. “The goal is to update their throughput and discovery capabilities, which would generate near-term revenue and increased chip sales down the road.” Hogan also said that the movement that Ciphergen hopes to make now from biomarker discovery to biomarker-based diagnostics could contribute to growth in the research proteomics market as well, “as researchers see SELDI-based biomarker discovery being translated into both SELDI-based research and diagnostic assays.”
On the biomarker side, Rich indicated that the first quarter of 2004 would bring a “major media campaign” designed to publicize Ciphergen’s biomarker work. This will accompany a second biomarker seminar tour, also to be held in 2004. The second tour will follow up on the recent Q3 14-city tour, which Rich said will be expanded into Japan in the current quarter.
Rich indicated that Ciphergen’s first move into diagnostics would be in the form of an ovarian cancer test based on the protein fingerprints that Emanuel Petricoin and Lance Liotta found last year (see PM 7-18-03). The company is currently conducting a multi-site validation study of 500 subjects, and Rich said that, pending successful results, Ciphergen would commercialize this test “as early as next year with a clinical diagnostic partner.” Correlogic Systems, Petricoin’s partner in his ovarian cancer work, has already licensed a pattern-based ovarian cancer test to Quest Diagnostics and Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings for homebrew use (see PM 7-18-03).
Rich acknowledged that early excitement over biomarker discovery — including the excitement generated over Petricoin and Liotta’s publication last year — was meaningless without large validation studies. “You’re going to see biomarkers coming out all over the place like trivets in the coming years,” he said. “But if you take a number of biomarkers and do small sample sizes of a few hundred patients, you can get exciting — and misleading — results.” In addition to ovarian cancer, Ciphergen will also focus on ovarian, breast, and pancreatic cancer, Rich said, and results from a biomarker study on Alzheimer’s will be presented this week at the Neurogenomics of Mice and Men meeting in New Orleans.
Rich called the BioSepra sorbents business an “interesting bright spot,” and noted that chromatography systems sales were also strong for competitors Amersham BioSciences and Waters. “Protein chromatography seems to be more robust and growing than any other sector in proteomics,” he said.
Ciphergen reported a decline in net losses of 34 percent year-over-year, to $5.2 million, compared with $7.9 million in the year-ago period. Revenues also rose 57 percent, to $16.1 million in the quarter just ended, from $10.2 million in the third quarter of 2002. Ciphergen attributed this revenue rise to increased sales of its ProteinChip systems, automation products, and BioSepra process proteomics products. The company said it had revised its Q4 guidance down to $19 million, and that it expected 2004 revenue to increase 45 to 55 percent over 2003 total revenues.
The company’s R&D spending dropped in the third quarter, to $5.4 million from $6 million in the year-ago period. As of Sept. 30, 2003, Ciphergen said it had $49.3 million in cash, cash equivalents, and investments.