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IntelliCyt growing along with cell-based screening market

IntelliCyt

From its first “office” in UNM’s tech transfer incubator space in 2006, to a small suite in the Verge building, and a recent move to an approximately 8,000-sq-ft building on the north side of Albuquerque, IntelliCyt has been on a continuous growth path. IntelliCyt founder, president and CEO, R. Terry Dunlay, self-funded the company in the beginning, but now IntelliCyt has had three rounds of venture capital funding, and is moving towards their fourth round.

“My philosophy with our earlier investment rounds has been to take as little investor money as you can and go as far with it as you can while generating revenue from products,” says Dunlay. “Now that we are poised for rapid growth, we’re looking for a larger round to make that growth a reality.” Currently IntelliCyt is looking to raise more capital to expand its commercial operations globally, develop a next-generation product, add to its suite of assay kits for various applications, and branch out into additional market areas.

The growth of cell-based screening

IntelliCyt is a life sciences company selling cell-based screening application solutions consisting of integrated instrumentation, software, and a suite of test kits. Their initial products are based on intellectual property focused on high throughput flow cytometry, developed at the University of New Mexico’s Cancer Research Center and licensed from STC.UNM, a nonprofit corporation which helps transfer the university’s faculty inventions to the marketplace.

Flow cytometry measures the physical and chemical characteristics of cells while they are in liquid suspension. What the company’s systems do is take flow cytometry, a well-established technology, and make it 30 to 40 times faster and therefore desirable for a number of applications. Two that the company is focusing on are cell-based screening for pharmaceutical drug discovery and the burgeoning personalized medicine market.

The cell-based screening market is experiencing double digit growth and currently is valued at $2.1 billion annually. IntelliCyt is well positioned to take part in this growth as it fills a need for faster testing of large numbers of cell samples in a cost-efficient way.

In the past, flow cytometry was just too slow for applications like drug discovery, where tens of thousands to millions of samples might need to be tested. Using industry standard microplates, the IntelliCyt instruments can run 96 or 384 samples at the same time, instead of just a single test tube sample as was done with traditional flow cytometry. So tests that were not feasible to do before, or might take years, can now be done in days or weeks.

Systems that make drug development faster

With pharmaceutical companies spending over $50 billion a year on R&D to develop new drugs, and a single drug often costing more than $1 billion to bring to market in a long process which can span 10 to 15 years, IntelliCyt’s systems, which can help shorten the time and cost of drug development, are taking hold in this market area.

In addition to huge improvements in speed, user-friendly informatics software which analyzes the large quantities of complex biological data resulting from the tests, making it easily accessible, are helping IntelliCyt instruments open up cell-based applications that people thought about, but that just weren’t practical previously.

IntelliCyt’s first product, the HyperCyt®, was an add-on to existing flow cytometers which automated testing and made the screening of large numbers of samples faster, at an unprecedented rate. Their current flagship product, the HTFC® screening system, is an integrated system, including a flow cytometer, HyperCyt, and informatics software.

Now IntelliCyt has added application specific assay kits to their product mix. Dunlay compares the kits to the ink customers buy for their computer printers. It’s a recurring revenue stream based on a consumable that is regularly used with the instrumentation for various tests.

A solid foundation for growth

The company’s ability to grow and fill a market need is based on having three critical elements: skilled and experienced employees, products that fill a market need based on solid IP, and financing from venture capital from both within and outside of New Mexico.

When Dunlay was looking for technologies to base a new company on, he stumbled upon some research into high throughput flow cytometry being done at UNM by Larry Sklar, PhD, and Bruce Edwards, PhD. Previously, Dunlay was co-founder of Cellomics, a company which pioneered the field of imaging-based high content screening, so with that experience and almost 20 years in life sciences and cell analysis, he immediately felt that high throughput flow cytometry was the next big thing. The fact that the continuing research was well-funded and technology patented was also attractive.

Like other successful New Mexico companies, IntelliCyt was able to get financing in the early stages from New Mexico VC firms, but has started to go out of state with their third and upcoming fourth round.

In 2007, IntelliCyt had a first round of financing from Verge Fund, Village Ventures and individuals. The second round of financing in 2008 came from existing investors, and in 2010, a third round came from New Mexico Community Capital, and Prolog Ventures, based in St. Louis, as well as existing investors.

With his initial rounds of venture capital he was able to hire a few key members of the IntelliCyt team who worked on engineering, software development, biology, and marketing. As the company got their first products to market, they raised another small round which allowed them to continue to build the company. The third round helped them build out their flagship product, the HTFC screening system.

Current customers are a veritable “Who’s Who” of pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology and life science research organizations, putting IntelliCyt well on its way to becoming a large part of the cell-based screening market in biologics discovery, in vitro toxicology, and cell research.

The next market on the horizon is personalized medicine, where patient’s cells are tested so that the right treatment can be customized just for them. A few years back this might have been considered a fantasy, but then so was large scale, high throughput cell screening using flow cytometry.

For more information about IntelliCyt, you can visit www.intellicyt.com

Portfolio companies are New Mexico companies that have received funding from one or more NMVCA member companies.