Helixis, Caltech Spinoff With Desktop Genetic Analysis Tool, Nabs $7.3M Venture Financing

Xconomy San Diego — 

Carlsbad, CA-based Helixis, the startup maker of genetic analysis tools founded from the Caltech lab of Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, has raised $7.3 million out of a venture capital round potentially worth $10 million, according to a regulatory filing today.

Helixis reported back in July that it had raised $5.5 million, so today’s filing is an amendment to reflect the larger amount of capital (nearly $2 million more) being invested. The filing, like July’s document, doesn’t say who invested, although Domain Associates, Advanced Technology Ventures, and Okapi Venture Capital led an initial venture financing in the company of $10 million back in 2007. The founders include Baltimore and Axel Scherer, who is also a Caltech professor.

Helixis is developing products that attempt to make real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technology more accessible to the average researcher. This technology precisely measures individual units of DNA and mutations. Switzerland-based Roche and Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE) are a couple of the big players in this market and typically sell big, expensive pieces of equipment to perform this kind of analysis.

The startup from Caltech has a different view of how real-time PCR might be applied. Advances in biology depend on scientists being able to precisely measure DNA and compare it easily across samples, but largely because of cost the current technology for doing that isn’t accessible to enough scientists, Baltimore says in a video clip posted on the Helixis website.

“The idea might be to have on the desktop of every scientist a machine that works as well as the most high-tech machines, but is affordable at the bench level,” Baltimore says. “Helixis is a company devoted to doing that, and has produced such a machine. We’d like to make that machine available on the widest possible basis.”

Helixis CEO Alex Dickinson couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, although he did confirm the amount of the financing through a company representative.

The company has some big names on its five-member board of directors, according to today’s SEC filing. The group includes Dickinson; Caltech’s Scherer; Illumina CEO Jay Flatley; Jim Blair of Domain Associates; and Tom Rodgers of Advanced Technology Ventures.