Thursday, May 8, 2008

Akonni nabs $6M in private investments

Frederick biotech develops systems to help physicians diagnose infectious diseases

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Photo courtesy of Akonni
Akonni research scientist Barbara Salvador purifies a sample to determine the genetic makeup of bacteria and viruses.
After snagging a $200,000 investment from the state, Akonni Biosystems has scored $6 million in private investments, including $5 million from an undisclosed investor.

The $5 million infusion was the largest by far for a biotech in the Washington, D.C., region in the first quarter, according to both the latest MoneyTree report and the Weisner Group. The five other biotechs receiving investments — Innovative Biologics Inc., CCBiotech LLC, ExpressionPathology Inc., Traxion Therapeutics Inc. and ChromoTrax Inc., which is in the Frederick business incubator — received a combined $370,000 in the quarter, according to the report.

Using micro-array technology, privately held Akonni is developing systems to help physicians quickly test for diseases such as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, upper-respiratory infections and hospital-acquired infections.

The company will use the new investments to accelerate product development and expand manufacturing capabilities, said company spokeswoman Michelle Hulcher. The company is also placing its systems for research use with several early clients, including a large pharmaceutical company, hospitals nationwide and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hulcher declined to comment on the specifics of those partnerships.

The company, which recently graduated from the Frederick business incubator, expects to secure approvals for its testing system from the Food and Drug Administration by 2010.

Akonni is also funded by government contracts and grants. It received $200,000 from the Maryland Department of Business and Development this year.

‘‘With the increasing threat to human health from highly infectious diseases ... it is extremely important that products like Akonni’s TruDiagnosis System enter the market,” CEO and president Charles Daitch said in a statement.

Founded in 2002, Akonni has grown to a staff of 33 full-time and contract employees, with plans to add more soon and eventually expand its space again, Hulcher said.

In March, Akonni was named Frederick County’s 2007 Small Business of the Year by the Tech Council of Maryland.

The U.S. molecular diagnostic testing market represents the fastest-growing and most profitable sector of the United States’ $51.7 billion clinical laboratory industry, Hulcher said, citing the 2007 Washington G-2 Report on business strategies for molecular diagnostics in the lab. The $4.1 billion molecular diagnostics market will continue to grow by roughly 19 percent annually for the next three years, the report concluded.

Akonni Biosystems’ three-year boom

Staff growth

2008: 33 employees

2007: 25 employees

2006: 15 employees

2005: six employees


2007: $3.9 million

2006: $800,589

2005: $109,493

Source: Akonni Biosystems