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Quanterix Acquires Aushon With Eye Toward Improved Multiplexing, Point-of-Care Tech

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – High-sensitivity immunoassay firm Quanterix announced on its Q4 earnings call this week that it has acquired microarray company Aushon BioSystems.

Kevin Hrusovsky, Quanterix's executive chairman and CEO, said during the call that in the near term the deal gives Quanterix access to Aushon's CLIA facility and allows it to bring aboard a number of Aushon employees it had hoped to hire this year.

Longer term, Hrusovsky said the acquisition will play a major role in Quanterix's point-of-care strategy. Specifically, he said the company believes Aushon's planar-based immunoassay system is better suited to POC work than the bead-based technology used in Quanterix's current instruments.

"Planar printing… is a complement to the bead technology that we have, and longer term, we believe that the planar technology will lead to a much more efficient point-of-care solution, which we think is a big piece of the long-term journey that we are on," he said.

Hrusovsky declined to disclose the purchase price but said Quanterix used an "immaterial amount of cash" for the acquisition.

Billerica, Massachusetts-based Aushon produces arrayer technology that allows production of highly multiplexed immunoassays. The company's Ciraplex assays, for instance, feature as many as 12 antibodies per well spotted across 96-well plates.

In 2016, Aushon moved into the high-sensitivity immunoassay space with the launch of its Ciraplex ULTRA assays, which measure analytes in the femtogram per ml range, compared to the sub-picogram to picogram per ml range for its standard Ciraplex assays.

More recently, Hrusovsky said, Aushon had narrowed its focus to "trying to win a major deal at a top-three reference lab for a specific cancer diagnostic test." He didn't say if Quanterix planned to continue pursuing this deal, though he noted the company's clinical ambitions remained a longer-term goal, saying that "we are not making any commitments around diagnostics today."

He said Quanterix did not expect Aushon to provide a boost to revenues in 2018, saying that the company considers "most of what we picked up [from the acquisition] in the short term from a revenue standpoint to be immaterial."

However, the acquisition of Aushon's CLIA lab accelerates the company's timetable for that development, he said, noting that Quanterix had previously aimed to open a CLIA facility in the third or fourth quarter of this year.

The buy was also "a way to accelerate our HR strategy," he said. "A lot of the people we have brought in from Aushon we planned to hire this year anyway." Hrusovsky didn't say how many Aushon employees would be joining Quanterix.

Additionally, the acquisition could help Quanterix speed expansion of its assay portfolio. Aushon offers assays to around 300 biomarkers compared to around 80 for Quanterix.

Quanterix is particularly interested in Aushon's technology and expertise around multiplexing, Hrusovsky said.

"What they did pretty productively was multiplex," he said. As Quanterix multiplexes and grows its menu, the cost structure will be at least competitive with conventional immunoassays, "while still providing this differentiation of sensitivity. So that is the grand opportunity that this [acquisition] represents."

Quanterix's assays are currently around twice as expensive as conventional immunoassays, but, as Hrusovsky said, the company hopes to narrow this price difference through multiplexing. Its recently released SR-X platform can multiplex up to six assays.

Aushon's Ciraplex platform offers high levels of multiplexing, but this becomes more challenging as assays move into lower ranges of detection. The company's high-sensitivity Ciraplex ULTRA system was much more limited in its multiplexing capabilities. Upon launch of the system in 2016, Michael Hreczuck, Aushon's senior director of global commercial operations, said the company was working to produce two-plex and three-plex kits for use on the platform. The company did offer nine-plex assays that were less sensitive than the single-plex ULTRA assays but still offered sub-picogram per ml levels of detection.