Luminex Finds Growth in Diagnostics Along a Texas-Wisconsin Corridor
To paraphrase the self-help saying, the first step in curing a problem is knowing that you have it. And Austin’s Luminex (Nasdaq: LMNX), with the help of its R&D team in Madison, WI, says it has found a way to help clinicians and researchers diagnose disease faster and more efficiently by enabling them to look for numerous diseases in a single sample.
Instead of needing multiple samples for use in multiple tests to screen for a variety of pathogens—which requires the physician to know what to look for upfront—Luminex says its technology allows for broad screening to be done at the same time. For example, with traditional tests, a clinician would test for one strain of the flu. If that test came up negative, the caregiver would have to set up additional tests until a culprit could be found. For such respiratory viruses, Luminex can test for up to 80 percent of the pathogens that could be responsible for such illness in a single sample, says Russell Bradley, Luminex’s senior VP for marketing and business development. More broadly, the company can test for up to 500 different pathogens, he added.
“That’s our claim to fame with health care wanting to do more with less,” he says. “We require less samples, less tests, faster testing.”
Luminex’s fundamental concept is carried out by an instrument called xMap. The technology uses a reader that examines microscopic “beads,” which are themselves tagged for specific pathogens. The beads are coated with the sample and the instrument then identifies which of those beads have found their targets. The company, which was founded in 1995 and went public five years later, currently sells four types of instruments. About 10,000 are used in the marketplace today, Bradley says.
Luminex’s customers include medical institutions, academic medical centers, and labs that do testing for clinical patient samples. A few other companies—Hologic in Bedford, MA, Roche Diagnostics, and Cepheid in Sunnyvale, CA—provide similar testing products, but Bradley says their competitors don’t have the same diagnostic scale as Luminex.
Over the years, Luminex has expanded out of its home in the Texas capital. In 2006, it purchased Toronto-based TM Biosciences, which produces tests for infectious diseases as well as genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis. Two years ago, it bought what was then called EraGen BioScience, for $34 million. The Madison, WI, company had been founded in 1999 and it develops molecular reagent assays, or testing, kits. The two companies had already formed an official partnership in 2005, when the Madison company licensed Luminex’s device for its assays.
So, when it came to expanding its chemistry portfolio, Bradley says, Luminex turned to EraGen. “We were really excited about their chemistry technology, which was very complementary to what we are trying to do in diagnostics,” he says. “That, and the talent they had in the team up there, we saw it as a way of accelerating our own programs.”
Beyond the existing business relationship, he adds that EraGen’s presence in Wisconsin was equally important. “I can remember distinctly when we were profiling EraGen, we liked the fact that it was based in Madison,” Bradley says. “It has a fairly dynamic biotech environment, and it gives us a chance to attract and retain the biotech talent we wanted to continue to invest in.”
In fact, Bradley says that Madison’s biotech ecosystem helps fill some gaps he sees in the Austin biotech community, which he describes as still being “embryonic.”
“We believe when Austin gets a medical school and can attract some research funding to Austin, that will be a catalyst for a lot of biotech in Austin,” he says. “It’s primed for growth.”
The company today has 700 employees, including 40 in Madison. Russell says he expects that group to grow larger as Luminex expands its operations there.
“We actually just moved from the EraGen facility to a new bigger facility close by,” he says.