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Out of Cash and Unable to Pin Down a Partnership, Akceli Shuts Down Operations

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For the past few weeks, anyone trying to get in contact with microarray developer Akceli has been out of luck — the company’s phones are disconnected, its website is down, and messages to corporate e-mail accounts get bounced back.

As it turns out, the company has folded after being unable to find new investors and failing to generate sufficient revenues to fund operations, according to Rockefeller University researcher Thomas Tuschl, who was a member of Akceli’s scientific advisory board.

Akceli was founded in 2001 to commercialize reverse transfection microarray technology developed by the Whitehead Institute’s David Sabatini. The technology involves culturing mammalian cells on a glass slide that has been printed in specific locations with cDNAs. Cells growing on those spots take up the DNA, resulting in areas of localized transfection among a collection of non-transfected cells.

The technology “allows you to miniaturize things tremendously and to do, for example, on one standard slide, 5,000 different spots and therefore screen 5,000 different reagents that you introduce to mammalian cells,” Sabatini, who was also a co-founder of Akceli, recently told RNAi News.

Applications for the technology in the RNAi field included replacing the DNA with RNAi molecules, and in November Akceli signed a deal to use Dharmacon siRNA reagents to explore the possibility of developing a high-throughput RNAi screening platform. Representatives from Dharmacon were not available to comment about the status of the Akceli partnership.

The company ran out of money and couldn’t convince investors to contribute more, Tuschl told RNAi News. Tuschl attributed the problems to Akceli’s being unable to develop “marketable technology” within a timeframe acceptable to venture capitalists.

Already working with limited funds — Akceli raised $6.5 million in its Series A financing round in March 2002 — the company was unable to put together genome-wide cDNA collections for its microarrays as it had been planning to, disappointing investors, Tuschl said.

“It was just too expensive at that point,” he said. “[Akceli] would have needed a strong partner … but [potential collaborators] were too conservative” to take a chance on the technology.

Tuschl added that Invitrogen was in negotiations to acquire the reverse-transfection technology, but these talks broke down and Invitrogen had little interest in funding Akceli operations.

“The [biopharmaceutical] industry doesn’t want to provide you with very valuable reagents because … if they have something really good they want to keep it in-house,” Tuschl added. “They were mostly interested in establishing the technology in house, rather than outsourcing it.”

Sabatini told RNAi News that he is uncertain what is to become of the reverse-transfection technology. “I don’t know, and I don’t think [Akceli] know[s] yet,” he said. “There are some bidders, but I don’t know the details of it.”

Calls to officials from two of Akceli’s major investors, Atlas Ventures and Apple Tree Partners, were not returned. Attempts to reach Akceli co-founder and president David Chao, as well as the company’s senior vice president of technology, Brent Kreider, were unsuccessful.

—DM

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