By Aaron Lorenzo

Further establishing its presence in the microfluidic technology market, South San Francisco-based Fluidigm Corp. raised $34 million in Series C financing from various venture capital investors. The company also said it has commitments for up to an additional $4 million.

Fluidigm plans to use the funding to further develop its microfluidic pump and valve technology within the life science markets. Microfluidic technologies control the flow of small amounts of liquids or gases in a miniaturized system.

¿This is to build products that will generate significant revenue for our company,¿ Fluidigm President and CEO Gajus Worthington said, adding that the money will be put to use right away.

Lehman Brothers led the round, with additional investments from Euclid SR Partners, of Philadelphia; U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, of Minneapolis; and GE Equity, of New York. The latest round also included follow-on investments from prior investors, including Versant Ventures and InterWest Partners.

¿Financing rounds are never simple, but there was a lot of demand for our company¿s stock because of what we do, and I can sum that up in one word: integration,¿ Worthington said.

While the events of Sept. 11 likely delayed the closing by about a month, Worthington added that the financing¿s completion provided further testimony of Fluidigm¿s technology.

¿This is a really tough financing market,¿ he said. ¿If you can get through this successfully, like we have, then you have a really sound product validation.¿

Worthington said the money would last ¿at least a couple of years.¿ To date, the company has raised $50 million in private funding rounds.

Fluidigm¿s business strategy focuses on entering developmental arrangements with its customers and on making its microfluid chips available for research. Its initial customer base includes instrument providers, pharmaceutical companies and researchers involved in drug discovery.

Microfluidics is a fast growing sector in the life science research market, with biochip market revenues estimated to be $1.2 billion in 2004, according to a UBS Warburg report in March. Microfluidics will aid in drug discovery through precision analysis on the cellular level, a science that could impact the biological world in the same way integrated circuits impacted electronics, Worthington said.

Fluidigm said it sets itself apart in that it produces microscale pumps and valves directly within rubber chips, allowing fluidic schemes to be easily implemented on the chip. The multilayer soft lithography platform enables high-density microfluidic circuits and allows for integration of on-chip functionality. On-chip pumps and valves enable precise mechanical pumping and switching of minute quantities of fluid through channels smaller in diameter than a human hair.

¿The fundamental switch for microfluidics is a valve,¿ Worthington said.

The company¿s chips, flexible given their rubber makeup, can hold thousands of such valves on a single unit.

¿Nobody else can do that,¿ Worthington said.

Prior systems were limited because of flow restrictions, meaning microfluidics on the whole was a limited science, he said.

The privately held company¿s rapid emergence is apparent in a glance at its brief history. When founded as Mycometrix in 1999, the company employed a staff of fewer than 10 people. Fluidigm now features more than 70 employees, with offices in California and Colorado.