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Agilent Plays Santa To Multiplicom Investors With Generous ROI

Executive Summary

Investors in Belgian molecular diagnostics company Multiplicom are seeing a payoff with a €68m acquisition offer from Agilent.

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Clinica's MedTech Ventures: Multiplicom

Specialty area(s): Multiplex PCR
Based in: Niel, Belgium
Founded in: 2011
No. of employees: 27
Total investment received to date: €7.5m ($10.2m)
Investors: Gimv, VIB, University of Antwerp, RMM, PMV, Qbic

It’s not often that a newly spun-out company would be generating revenue in the million-dollar range within its first full year of sales, and even less so that this turnover would double the following year and continue to do so the year after that.
Yet, CEO of multiplex PCR and next generation DNA sequencing specialist Multiplicom, Dirk Pollet, is confident that his company will hit these targets quite comfortably as sales of its genetic test kits gain traction.
The firm was spun out of the University of Antwerp in April 2011, following a series A financing round which raised €2m ($2.7m). With these funds, the company started commercializing its genetic test kits, which are designed to carry out the DNA amplification required before the sample is analyzed on massive parallel sequencing (MPS) platforms. The tests enable multiple genes, or multiple pieces of gene, to be amplified in a single PCR reaction, “in a very easy format”, according to Dr Pollet. In 2012, Multiplicom recorded €1.5m of product sales and the CEO is anticipating this figure to be just over €3m for 2013. And the plan is to double again next year, he predicted, adding that this was a “very realistic” expectation with the rate things are developing.
What marks Multiplicom’s products from other multiplex PCR technologies – thus helping to drive sales – is their simplicity and low cost. “For example, in the area of BRCA [breast and ovarian cancer] gene testing, you would normally do 95 PCR amplifications in order to test for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. With our test kits, you just do it in five test tubes,” he told Clinica. Also, compared to other firms like Fluidigm and Raindance Technologies, which are also offering multiplex PCR, Multiplicom’s technology does not require costly equipment, said Dr Pollet. “These instruments [by Fluidigm and Raindance] are actually doing individual PCRs and then after the PCR, all the different pieces are then put in the next-generation sequencer (NGS). But they do it with expensive machines and expensive consumables. Clinical labs don’t have to invest in additional equipment [to perform multiplex PCR] with our technology; they just buy our kits and can immediately start working with them.” As a price comparison, Multiplicom’s test kits are priced between €100-150 each, while competing products could be two- to three-times more expensive, Clinica is told.
The reagents in Multiplicom’s test kits include primers that have been specially designed – by the company’s proprietary technology – in such a way that they are compatible with each other. “Most scientists have been trying to do multiplex PCR for many years, and they have always found that if they design primers, these primers interact with each other, leading to a very unequal amplification of the different pieces of DNA of interest. Our technology allows us very efficiently to design primers that do not interact with one another, which results in very homogenous amplification of the target DNA.”
Multiplicom’s tests can be run on the three major MPS platforms currently available: the 454 system from Roche, MiSeq from Illumina and Life Technologies’ PGM Personal Genome Machine. “Each of our kits can be used in combination with any of these sequencers, provided you are using the right kit that links the amplified material to the instrument that is used for sequencing,” explained Dr Pollet.
While these next-generation sequencing systems are relatively new to the market, he estimates that over 50% of genetic testing labs already have access to one of the above instruments and believes that “two years from now, every genetic testing lab will be equipped with a next-generation sequencer”, helping to further drive uptake of Multiplicom’s products.
In contrast to its main competitors Multiplicom has already obtained CE/IVD status for certain test kits, making it easier for its customers to take their products into clinical routine.  The company’s product portfolio within its biggest division, human genetics is already sizeable, considering the business is less than three years old. This portfolio includes well-established cancer genetic tests, as well as diagnostics for genetic, neurological and kidney disorders, among other things. The firm’s strategy is to keep expanding its offerings; it most recently launched three new genetic tests to identify individuals at risk for maturity onset diabetes of the young, autosomal dominant hypercholesterolemia and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Multiplicom will also be focused on bulking up its two other product segments, oncogenetics and prenatal genetics. The company launched in September three new somatic mutation detection kits – Epidermal Growth Factor (EGFR 18-21), Gastro-Intestinal Stromal Tumors (cKIT, PDGFRA), and Somatic panel 1 (KRAS, NRAS, BRAF) – to enable personalized cancer treatment tests. “The oncogenetics unit will likely grow as large as human genetics,” said Dr Pollet. “We are also working on noninvasive aneuploidy test which we are hoping to launch by end of 2014, which will make up the third [prenatal genetics] pillar of our portfolio.
Multiplicom’s sales – carried out through a direct sales force as well as distributors – have been focused mainly in Europe so far. The company does have its sights set on the US, but it would approach this market via a partner who can take Multiplicom through the regulatory hurdles.

Dirk Pollet, CEO. Tel: +32 3 289 14 00.
Multiplicom NV. Galileilaan 18, 2845 Niel, Belgium.

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