January 20, 2014 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Cell and Bead-Based Screening Solutions for Pharma and Biotech Industries
IntelliCyt is a
life science tools company, headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that
develops innovative, high-throughput, high-content cell and bead-based
screening solutions. IntelliCyt instrumentation, informatics software, and
reagent products are used worldwide throughout the pharmaceutical and
biotechnology industries as well as by leading academic and non-profit life
9620 San Mateo Blvd. NE
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – January 20, 2014
CEOCFO: Mr. Dunlay, what is IntelliCyt?
Mr. Dunlay: IntelliCyt is a life science tools company, and we develop, manufacture and market proprietary cell and bead-based screening solutions consisting of instrumentation, informatics software and reagent kits that are used to radically increase throughput of lab tests, improve sensitivity, increase productivity and reduce costs.
CEOCFO: Would you explain your areas of focus?
Mr. Dunlay: Our market focus is primarily in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries and we also provide our products to non-profit labs. Our products are used for quickly screening large numbers of cell-based samples to understand their biological characteristics. The end result is that we can very quickly measure multiple parameters of cells, on a cell by cell basis, on large number of samples that ultimately improves the productivity of the drug discovery process.
CEOCFO: What have you figured out that others have not?
Mr. Dunlay: We take flow cytometry, a well-established cell and particle analysis technology, and make it 40times faster and therefore desirable for a variety of high throughput cellular screening applications that were never feasible for it to be used before. Flow cytometers are instruments that measure the physical and chemical characteristics of cells, one cell at a time, while they are in liquid suspension. In the past, flow cytometry was just too slow for screening 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, 384, or 1,536 samples at the same time, instead of just a single test tube sample as was done with traditional flow cytometry. For example, we can analyze a 96 well microplate in 2.5 minutes and a 384 well microplate in 10 minutes. So tests that were not feasible to do before, or might take years or months, can now be done in hours, days or weeks.
Mr. Dunlay: Our technology, the HyperCyt® sampler, is a patented very high throughput sampling device that can acquire microfluidic samples and transfer them to a flow cytometry based detector much faster than anything else on the market today. What we have done is integrated a flow cytometry based detector with the HyperCyt device and together with our software, created new high throughput system for screening cell and bead-based samples in liquid suspension deposited into industry standard microplates. A conventional flow cytometer, typically requires a large single sample in a test tube that is 50-100 microliters in size, but we are able to reduce the sample size down to one to two microliters for samples deposited into microplates. In addition to huge improvements in speed and massive reduction in sample size, we have user-friendly informatics software which analyzes the large quantities of complex biological data resulting from the tests that are analyzed with our instruments. All this working together in an easy to use manner is enabling new applications that just were not practical previously.
CEOCFO: What is the cost comparison?
Mr. Dunlay: Right now, there is no other technology out on the market that can do what we can do so it is kind of hard to compare the costs. We have customers who have reported cost saving in reagent usage alone to be on the order of 80% in reagent cost savings using our instrumentation. In addition, there is a huge savings in time to both do the measurements and the data analysis and the resulting costs associated.
CEOCFO: Is cost an issue for potential customers?
Mr. Dunlay: Absolutely, and the big savings in costs are time and the sample size and the reagents that are needed. Cell-based samples can be expensive, so the cost of the sample itself is reduced and amount and cost of reagents is also reduced radically. For example, we can run a blood test on hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds in a drug discovery application. You would need a huge sample volume of cells if you were analyzing a test tube at a time and $4 to $5 of reagents per tube. We could actually take a much smaller sample, spread it out over multiple microplates to do thousands of tests and take only a one to two microliter sample. The reagents that are then used are reduced radically too. The cost to do it before was so prohibitive that nobody even thought of using flow cytometry to do screening of thousands to tens of thousands samples, because it was not feasible. We bring the cost into a point where it actually is feasible and people can use it for doing primary and secondary screening in drug discovery.
CEOCFO: How long has the iQue™Screener System been available?
Mr. Dunlay: The iQue system is the third instrument we brought to market. It is our current flagship product and it has been available since July of 2013. The iQue takes all the technology, developments, and what we learned in our earlier products and put it all into one fully automated high throughput cellular screening system.
CEOCFO: Is the community that should know about your product aware of it?
Mr. Dunlay: This is one our key objectives and challenges; to get the message out so that people are aware of our tools and what they can do for them. Most times when people hear what we can do, they just do not believe it until they see it. Usually after they see it, they buy it.
CEOCFO: How are you spreading the word?
Mr. Dunlay: We spread the word through various marketing avenues including tradeshows, our website, webinars, ads in trade magazines, and word of mouth from customers. Also, a number of our customers have presented results of using our products at conferences and published in scientific journals and trade magazines, so it’s not just us getting the word out. We sell our products via a direct sales force in the North America. We expanded overseas via full service distributors into Europe and Japan over the past two years and into China this past summer.
CEOCFO: This is certainly not your first venture. What have you learned in previous ventures that is most helpful at IntelliCyt?
Mr. Dunlay: This is the fifth life science startup company I have been in and the third company that I have founded or co-founded. I have taken the experience that I have learned in the past, hopefully learned from my mistakes, and utilized that in this new company. We have been very capital efficient in getting to where we got to today. I would say our funding level in other companies that I have been part of had raised on the order five to ten times more money to get to the same commercial level that we are at today.
CEOCFO: Has the client base been actively looking for a better way, or is this something they will be excited to know exists?
Mr. Dunlay: I think it is a little bit of both. The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry is definitely looking for new technologies to analyze cells. There are lots of new biomarkers, proteins and genes that are being discovered every day. Those need to be tested in an environment that can show relevant physiological meaning and cells have emerged as a preferred way of doing that. In the drug discovery process that a new candidate drug goes through, it typically is not until you get to the stage of clinical trials or animal testing that you have a relevant system where you can make measurement to see what the physiological or phenotypic response of a particular drug is to particular biomarker or protein. Our technology actually fits exactly what the industry needs, by testing cells in advance of animal and human tests. It is really just a matter of getting it out there and making people aware of it.
CEOCFO: Are there giants in the area that you will be replacing and may circumvent attention for your product?
Mr. Dunlay: We do indirectly compete against some existing technologies. Those are in what is called the high content imaging area, and that is an area that I am very familiar with. The last company that I cofounded was actually a leader in that area, and that company got acquire by Thermo Fisher. Companies like Thermo Fisher, PerkinElmer, GE Healthcare, and Molecular Devices have established high content imaging technologies in the market. In a way, we are competitive with them, but we are also very complimentary to them. Most of those technologies can only analyze a certain cell type that are called adherent cells, which are typically tissue samples. Our technology is actually focused on analyzing samples in liquid such as cell-based samples like blood, certain types of stem cells, and other types of liquid samples including bone marrow. There is also a newer technology out called multiplex-beads, which are used to measure proteins and components of cells that are attached to beads. We can measure beads which are naturally in liquid and imaging-based systems cannot measure liquid based-samples very well. The other technologies that we are somewhat competitive with are standard microplate readers. They are very well established ELISA tests have been out there for the last 25 years. As opposed to measuring the entire well of a microplate as one homogenous measurement, we make individual cell measurements and accumulate the data for the entire well. We can discriminate between individual cells and particles in that well as opposed to making just one homogenous measurement. Measurements that we make are much more sensitive and precise, and we can also get cell populations, so we can measure multiple cell types in a well and make multiple simultaneous measurements on each cell. For example, we could simultaneously measure four to five biomarkers at a time in cells and or four to five proteins attached to beads. We can do that on multiple cell types simultaneously, so we can do multiplexing on cell and bead-based sample that are in fluid, and we can do that at a speed that nothing else on the market can do today.
CEOCFO: What are you physically selling?
Mr. Dunlay: We sell instrumentation, software and reagent kits. The instrumentation is our iQue Screener. Then there is our ForeCyt™ software that comes with the iQue to control it and there is our iDM™ informatics software that is used to analyze, visualize, and manage the huge amount of data that comes off the iQue. We also sell a suite of reagent kits that go onto the iQue system as well. The reagents provide a recurring revenue stream based on a consumable that is regularly used with the iQue system. The reagent kits are used to label cells or multiplex beads a run a variety of tests and we are continuing to build out our suite of reagent kits.
CEOCFO: Would they be buying directly from you?
Mr. Dunlay: Customers can buy direct from IntelliCyt in North America or from our distributors in the rest of the world. Regarding reagents, the iQue system is an open platform, so not only can you buy the reagent kits from us, but many researchers develop their own tests, or they could buy reagents from other providers as well that they could run on the iQue system.
CEOCFO: Would you tell us a little bit more about the market in China and Japan?
Mr. Dunlay: The market in China and Japan is a newer market for our technology. Japan is quite a bit further along because Japan has a number of established pharmaceutical companies and there are also a number of biotech companies in Japan. In China, there are a growing number of pharmaceutical companies that just recently in the last couple years have established a presence there. What is happening now is that pharmaceutical companies such as GSK, Merck and a number of others are establishing a presence and having research facilities in China. A number of those companies work closely with the universities in China as well. There is a large, growing research base there that would be ideal for our screening solutions and we expect that be an area of growth for us moving forward.
CEOCFO: You talked about your funding going far. Will you be seeking additional funding as you make a larger push?
Mr. Dunlay: Right now, we actually just finished raising a round of funding in the Spring of 2013, so we are pretty set for at least the next year or two. Certainly, if we expand into new markets or we want to expand faster in our current markets than what we are now, is it an area that we may seek additional funding for, but that would be used primarily for commercial growth.
CEOCFO: From what you have explained, I cannot imagine why someone would not want to use your system!
Mr. Dunlay: Some of the biggest hurdles that we have are that it is a new technology, and people have to get their heads around how they have been doing something and translating that to doing it with our technology. It does require doing some things differently to take advantage of the technology. For example, the industry may have been using adherent cells, and they were using adherent cells because there were technologies out there to do large-scale screening of adherent cells such as high content imaging. They did not do cells in liquid or what is called suspension cells because there were no technologies out to do it at a high throughput rate needed for screening. Now that we are around, people have to get their arms around knowing they had suspension cells but never thought about screening with them before because they did not have the technology to do it. Some of our hurdles are the adoption of the technology and making changes to processes that take advantage of the technology that we have. Once you do that and you get through that, it is kind of a no brainer to just buy it. For people who know about that and have had that need, we walk in and it is like as soon as they see the demo, they buy a system.
CEOCFO: Why pay attention to IntelliCyt?
One of the
main reasons is that we are creating this new market of screening cells and
beads in liquid suspension which hasn’t been done before and the unmet needs
that opens up. Cells are the basic unit of life and understanding how things
work at the cellular level gives much more biologically relevant information
than just measuring components like proteins, genes and enzymes. The
development of a new medicine takes 10 to 15 years and costs $2 billion to
bring to market. With IntelliCyt’s screening solutions, you can decrease
cost and time to bring a new medicine to market and get much more
biologically relevant results earlier in the drug development process, which
will ultimately result in better, more efficacious and safe drugs. Being
that we can streamline the drug discovery process so radically, we also feel
that in the future we should be able to personalize existing drugs to the
individual in clinical applications using the same technology we have proven
in research oriented applications. The next market on the horizon for
IntelliCyt is personalized medicine, where a patient’s cells are tested so
that the right treatment can be customized just for them. For example, you
could get cells from people in certain subpopulations that you can test the
drug on and get relevant physiological insight into whether that drug or
some other drug would work best for them. You hear these stories in the news
all the time where a drug works for a subset of the population but doesn’t
work for people in another subset of the population. If you could find out
earlier whether a drug works for a particular person and do that much
quicker, it will just open up a whole new realm of medicines for people that
are much more targeted to the person.
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