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Helicos Hires Investment Bank to Advise on 'Strategic Alternatives,' Clarifies Instrument Placements

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This article, originally published Sept. 3, has been updated with additional information.

By Julia Karow

Helicos BioSciences said last week that it has hired Thomas Weisel Partners "to assist the company with its evaluation and execution of strategic alternatives."

The company also clarified the number of instruments it has installed, as well as which of those instruments have been purchases as opposed to evaluation placements.

In a statement last week, the company reiterated that it is "actively engaged" in discussions with potential partners about new strategies, such has equity financings, joint ventures, or partnerships. Helicos initially disclosed this information in an August filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

"Such discussions have involved parties inside and outside the genetic sequencing space," Helicos said last week.

Helicos is in need of new funding as its cash is running low. As of mid-August, the company had $5 million in cash and cash equivalents, which combined with expected revenues will allow it to support its operations into the first quarter of 2010 (see In Sequence 8/18/2009).

The company also clarified last week that it has six Helicos Genetic Analysis Systems installed at sites outside its premises, and one pending instrument order. Last month, a company official had told In Sequence that "right now, we have got seven instruments out there," including four placements by the company and three systems ordered by customers.

Two installations — at the Stanford University Stem Cell Institute and at an undisclosed biotechnology company in the Northeast — are "outright system purchases," according to last week's statement. Helicos booked $829,000 in revenue from the Stanford sale during the first quarter (see In Sequence 5/19/2009), its first instrument revenue.

The Broad Institute received a Helicos instrument at no cost in early 2009, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research installed instruments as "reference sites for scientific and commercial evaluation" and "will have the opportunity to purchase their system outright at the end of the evaluation period," according to today's statement.

In January, Helicos also said it had received an instrument order from the St. Laurent Institute, a private research institute, which Helicos said had an agreement to ship the instrument to the University of Maryland, Baltimore (see In Sequence 4/7/2009). Helicos clarified last week that "the site location for this system installation and contractual terms associated with the order are being revised by the parties."

This week, the company said that the RIKEN Yokohama Institute Omics Science Center will purchase four Helicos sequencers, three of which will be shipped this month (see other article in this issue).

Helicos said it expects that the systems installed to date "will provide additional revenue from the sale of proprietary reagents, and that the results of the system evaluations at the reference sites will lead to additional instrument sales."

Dana-Farber has already decided that it wants to keep its instrument. Paul Morrison, director of the Molecular Biology Core Facilities at Dana-Farber, told In Sequence last month that following the six-month evaluation period, his institute would like to keep the instrument but is still exploring funding options (see In Sequence 8/18/2009).

On the technical side, Helicos reiterated today that it achieved "technical feasibility" for its paired-read technology earlier this year, which will initially enable insert sizes of one kilobase. The company plans to make paired reads, which rely on unlabeled bases being added between two reads, available to customers during the fourth quarter.

The company also said it has "successfully completed" collaborations to analyze ancient human DNA samples, and has sequenced DNA from formalin-fixed paraffin embedded clinical tumor samples in collaboration with a major cancer center in the US.

According to the firm, "the use of small amounts of starting material for all applications has emerged as a distinguishing benefit of the Helicos Genetic Analysis system" — a benefit that has been noted by collaborators outside the company (see In Sequence 5/12/2009).

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