Menlo Park, Calif.-based Akoya Biosciences Inc. has scooped up $50 million in financing, with an eye toward growing via the expansion of commercial and operational resources and continuing product development activities around its platforms for spatial biology. 

Akoya is a relatively young company that was founded in 2015 around the CODEX (CO-Detection by indEXing) platform. That technology was developed in the lab of Garry Nolan, the Rachford and Carlota A. Harris Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine. 

Since then, the company has attracted the notice of investors. For example, this latest financing was led by Piper Jaffray Merchant Banking, with continued participation from Telegraph Hill Partners. New players joining the round were Agilent Technologies and Innovatus Capital Partners LLC.  

For its part, Telegraph Hill Partners played a key role in helping the company move ahead. “There was a pretty strong relationship between our venture partners at Telegraph Hill Partners in San Francisco and the senior team at Perkinelmer,” Brian McKelligon, CEO of Akoya, explained to BioWorld. Perkinelmer had come to Telegraph Hill to help with the divesture of the Phenoptics portfolio, which complements what CODEX does. Akoya’s September 2018 series C round helped fund the acquisition of that portfolio. 

The Phenoptics portfolio includes the Mantra, Vectra and Vectra Polaris systems and provides the throughput and standardization required to support large-scale translational studies. As part of the transaction, Perkinelmer’s Phenoptics team’s management, R&D, sales and support staff joined Akoya, operating out of the greater Boston area.  

“With both the Phenoptics portfolio and CODEX, Akoya will provide our customers with a full suite of end-to-end solutions for high parameter tissue analysis,” McKelligon said at the time. “We now have the team and technologies to develop and deliver transformational solutions in the rapidly advancing field of tissue imaging.” 

During Perkinelmer’s third-quarter 2018 earnings call, company management noted that it had sold its multispectral imaging business though Akoya Biosciences for about $37 million.   

McKelligon joined the company in 2017 following the series B round of financing. At the time, he was the fourth employee. Since then, the company has seen the launch of the Phenoptics 2.0 and CODEX, as well as a huge uptick in the number of employees. The employee count now stands at more than 120.  

Standing out 

“What we have with our platforms … is the ability to take a tissue sample and afford scientists – whether they [are] discovery scientists or translational or clinical researchers – the ability to look at a tissue and really understand [its] architecture,” McKelligon explained when asked about spatial biology. He noted that other technologies are destructive to the tissue, having an adverse impact on its integrity.  

He went on to explain that when a researcher peers into a microscope, he or she is interested in where the key cellular compartments are, where the immune responses are happening, as well as where key biomarkers are present. To that end, spatial biology has become the “term du jour” as a result of the “explosion of immuno-oncology.” 

To illustrate his point, he noted that in 2011, there was one immuno-oncology product on the market. Now there are six products hitting 14 therapeutic areas. “[W]hat … clinical researchers are beginning to [recognize] is that understanding where these key biomarkers lie within the tumor relative to each other is the best way to predict whether … somebody’s going to respond to therapy.” Understanding the tumor microenvironment is essential, he continued. To that end, spatial biology solutions are needed to maintain integrity of the tissue while providing the opportunity to see where markers are.  

“[W]hat we believe we have are two solutions that are uniquely suited to different steps along the drug development and biomarker continuum,” McKelligon said. On the discovery side, researchers want to take a deep dive into the tumor microenvironment to understand disease pathophysiology. “And that’s what CODEX does,” he said. “And it’s very affordable; … it integrates with existing microscopes.” The offering aims to bring spatial biology to the discovery market, looking at whole tissue on slides. 

Meanwhile, the Phenoptics portfolio is intended for the translational and clinical setting, providing the chance to look at a host of markers and doing 30 samples a day. That can help in a large retrospective study, as it has a high degree of robustness, throughput and consistency.  

Looking ahead 

In terms of its plans with expanding and platform development with the funding, McKelligon noted the company is aiming to scale commercially and have additional support teams both in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific markets. 

“On the platform development side, there are really two vectors … one is taking a look at the continuum of technologies, from instruments to software to reagents across both portfolios and figuring out how we can best … leverage both of those to continue to deliver better solutions to the market. That’s in the discovery [setting].” In terms of Phenoptics on its own, the company is planning to continue develop it as a future true clinical platform. 

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