Illumina Acquires Helixis for Up to $105M, To Get Small, Low-Cost Genetic Analysis Tool

7/27/10Follow @xconomy

San Diego-based Illumina has acquired an intriguing startup from southern California with a vision of putting low-cost genetic analysis systems on every biologist’s benchtop.

Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN), the leading maker of high-speed gene sequencing instruments, said today in its second-quarter financial report, and in a separate statement, that it has acquired Carlsbad, CA-based Helixis for $70 million in cash upfront, plus another $35 million in contingent considerations. Helixis CEO Alex Dickinson has agreed to join Illumina as a senior vice president, and assist in the coming weeks with the introduction of a new product line Illumina is calling Eco Real-Time PCR.

The acquisition was apparently made on April 30, but wasn’t announced until today’s quarterly report. Still, the Helixis deal shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that Illumina CEO Jay Flatley joined the startup’s board last year as it prepared to launch its new product for high-powered, low-cost polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Helixis, which I profiled back in January, was built around the idea creating a real-time PCR technology that’s small enough to sit on the average lab bench, costs less than one-fourth of the standard bulky machines found in centralized labs, and performs with a higher degree of accuracy and consistency. Helixis, which began with technology developed in the Caltech labs of David Baltimore and Axel Scherer, wanted to make a lab bench tool that any biologist could use to precisely measure how DNA is switched on or off in a given sample of, say, cancer cells, compared with healthy cells.

While the big standard machines sold by competitors like Life Technologies, Bio-Rad Laboratories, and Roche can cost as much as $50,000, the new Illumina tool aims to carve out a new market at a much lower price—$13,900. That price should make it “accessible to individual researchers around the world,” Illumina said in a statement.

“We are excited to launch the Eco Real-Time PCR System, which we believe will set new standards for performance, simplicity and affordability,” said Christian Henry, Illumina’s senior vice president and general manager, life sciences, in a statement.

Helixis’ investors appear to be getting a pretty good return on their investment. The company was founded in 2007 with a $10 million investment from Domain Associates, Advanced Technology Ventures, and Okapi Venture Capital. Back in October, Xconomy reported on a regulatory filing which showed the company had raised another $7.3 million.

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