Semiconductors and Cells: Innovation and Investment In Cell Sorting Technologies

7 Jul

By Caitlin Kramer, Research Analyst, LSN

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Advances in computer science and engineering in recent decades mirror and enable advances in the life sciences. The trends of miniaturization, massive parallelization, and faster processing are now applicable to cell handling, and investors are therefore taking a keen interest in this rapidly developing field.

Current instruments aim to separate and enrich desired cells from complex matrices using smaller sample sizes, all while shrinking device size to handheld or benchtop scale. Many of these new technologies make use of microfluidics and/or microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) which employ microscale electric, acoustic, or magnetic fields to separate cells on the basis of character.

These novel cell sorting and isolation technologies have applications in R&D in CRO, pharma, and academic settings, as well as in point-of-care clinical settings. The LSN Company Database contains 285 companies with a description containing “cell separation” and “chip”. A breakdown of these companies by sector (Figure 1) shows an emphasis on development of technology for use in the R&D or industrial settings, followed by chips developed for use in medical care.

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Within the LSN Investor Platform, we have identified 520 investors with a potential interest in “biochips” and “screening” for use in R&D Settings (Figure 2). Of these investors, private equity groups are the most prevalent followed by venture capitalists. The high level of interest shown by private equity groups is indicative of technologies that are becoming mature; PE groups feel comfortable and interested in providing later stage funds to companies seeking growth, expansion, and buyout. The second most prevalent investment type is venture capital, which speaks to the continuing interest in developing novel chip technologies.

A breakdown of investors and companies by country (Figure 3) using the results of the aforementioned searches shows that the US, Germany, and China are leading in numbers of early stage companies with cell sorting chip technology. The greatest number of investors interested in these technologies are located in the US, followed by investors in the United Kingdom. However, many of these investors are looking globally for investment opportunities.  German cell sorting chip investment opportunities notably outnumber local investors, meaning Germany-headquartered companies might need to look abroad for investors.

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Cells isolated from their endogenous origins – bodily fluids and tissues, ground water, soil, etc, are truer representatives of nature and therefore have great advantage as research and diagnostic subjects. This growing awareness has resulted in a gradual shift away from stock strains, and is relevant to antibiotic drug discovery, microbiome research, cancer diagnosis, and personalized medicine. The cell sorting market is predicted to grow to $6.3 billion by 2020, and the space is becoming more competitive as new technologies hit the market and gain traction with researchers. LSN will be looking for future developments in this increasingly crowded landscape.

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