03 Nov Wisconsin company with SARS diagnostic role lands $13 million investment
Madison, Wis. — NimbleGen, a Madison biotech firm that played a leading role in determining the origins of the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in Singapore has won $12.8 million in venture capital.
The company has raised a total of $41 million since its inception in 2000.
Robert Palay, chairman of NimbleGen’s board, expects the company will continue to pursue market opportunities in micro-array technology. He said there is a $700 million market for studying gene expression and its effect on disease. In practical applications, the technology will help scientists understand why people get sick from disease and how the body responds to disease, he said.
Peter Shagory of Baird Venture Partners said the company impressed its investor syndicate with its unique technology, progress in product commercialization and seasoned management team. “Gene expression is a fundamental workhorse in the field of pharma/biotech discovery,” he said. He said NimbleGen’s product will open up market opportunities in both academia and industry.
NimbleGen will also continue to focus on marketing the company’s signature gene chip, which allows DNA comparisons to biological samples. In 2003, according to Joleen Rau, director of marketing, the firm worked with the Genome Institute of Singapore during the SARS epidemic. The company’s SARS resequencing array helped to speed up contact tracing of infected individuals, Rau said.
Traditionally, contact tracing is used to determine the genetic origins of a virus in order to control an epidemic, a very slow process that can take more than a week. But NimbleGen developed a SARS-specific detection chip to help scientists determine where and when infected individuals contracted the disease, Rau said.
“We determined that a single isolated case was not a mutation, but a known strain,” she said. Thus, a SARS mutation scare was averted, and the infection was traced to “bad lab practices,” she said.
The gene chips work by allowing scientists to compare spots of DNA to a sample. If there’s a perfect match, scientists can tell which genes are being expressed. Other uses include genetic resequencing, such as in the SARS epidemic. Rapid genotyping is vital in controlling serious epidemics. Speed is also important in bio-terrorism defense, where rapid gene surveillance could provide insight into origins of the biological weapon strain.
NimbleGen serves clients worldwide in life sciences, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, academic research, industrial research, and bio-defense for government agencies. The firm employs about 65 people in its Madison headquarters and has operations in both Iceland and Germany.
Baird Venture Partners and Venture Investors of Chicago; Cargill Ventures of Minneapolis, Skyline Ventures of Palo Alto, California; Tactics II Investments LLC of Northbrook, Illinois; the State of Wisconsin Investment Board and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation participated in this latest financial round.
Christine Javid is a staff writer for WTN and can be reached at email@example.com.