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May 15, 2014

Disrupting the Cell Sorting Marketplace

An Interview with Dr. John Sharpe, CEO of Cytonome

Cytonome is an analytical and medical instruments company with a new approach to flow cytometry and cell sorting. They are launching three new disruptive products at CYTO 2014 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida this week (booth #324). We talked to CEO John Sharpe about the features of his company’s new products and how Cytonome plans to make a splash in the flow cytometry and cell sorting markets.

Interviewer: Cytonome is launching three new cell sorting products, the Hydris, Gigasort and Viva products this week at CYTO 2014. My first question is “What are the key features of these products that make them different from other cell sorting products”?

Dr. Sharpe: Conventional cell sorters are very flexible and can run a wide variety of experiments. Unfortunately, this flexibility leads to complexity, extra expense and difficulties operating the equipment. We are building smart and simple application-specific instruments, which has never before been attempted. Our instruments provide similar or superior application-specific performance in purifying cell populations to conventional instruments at a much lower price point.

Interviewer: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of your company?

Dr. Sharpe: Our company was established in 2009 to take advantage of advanced cell purification technologies developed by the company’s founders. Since that time, we have shipped over 150 OEM instrument systems to customers worldwide. We are now offering our proven platform technologies directly to customers under our own brand name.

Interviewer: Tell me about the Viva product? What are the key features of this specific product that makes it stand out from conventional cell sorters?

Dr. Sharpe: The Viva product is competitively positioned relative to existing cell sorting instruments with a superior performance/price ratio. We’ve also designed the instrument with a highly intuitive, tablet-based interface, which automates many of the technically difficult and time-consuming steps involved in cell sorting.

Interviewer: What types of users is the Viva product aimed at?

Dr. Sharpe: From its price to its usability, we’ve designed the Viva product to be the most accessible cell sorter ever made. We think both novice and advanced users will appreciate the product for its simplicity and practicality. We have shown the product to core flow centers and lab users, and they have all been amazed at how little training was required to operate the system, along with its incredible performance and price.

Interviewer: One of the major drivers in flow cytometry recently has been reducing the barrier to entry, and it looks like Cytonome is pushing hard in that direction with the Viva product. What are the main considerations you made in the design of the instrument to enhance usability while lowering costs?

Dr. Sharpe: We believe that reducing the barrier to entry for cell sorters extends beyond the price of the instrument and involves everything including the purchasing, facility requirements, and other aspects of using an instrument. Customers can quickly learn about the Viva and order their system using a simple, well-defined process. The instrument itself also has very minimal requirements to use – it fits on a desktop and simply needs a standard AC power outlet, unlike other instruments that need an entire lab bench or half the floor space of a lab. The Viva has no separate computers, display screens, air pressure sources or other requirements of legacy cell sorters. When a user first receives a Viva system, it will take only a few minutes to plug it in and start working. If the user has any questions, they can access our technical support team with any questions.

Interviewer: Flow cytometers and cell sorters are being used in more and more settings beyond the typical core lab setting- from basic lab research, to high throughput cell screening to cGMP cell production. How will your products cater to these broader markets?

Dr. John Sharpe: From basic biological research to high throughput cell screening to cGMP cell production, we actually have several exciting products available. Our first Viva-G1 product in the Viva system family will meet the needs of core labs and basic biological research groups interested in application-specific cell sorting of GFP labeled cells. Our Hydris product will meet the need of groups interested in routine and repetitive cell selection tasks such as high throughput cell screening, rare cell selection, or specialized and industrial cell sorting applications. Our Gigasort product is designed for cGMP cell production applications and other areas where both bio-sterility and high throughput are needed. The common thread is that Cytonome is producing application-specific cell sorters that combine high performance, precision and accuracy into intuitive and easy-to-use systems. We are using a range of patented, disruptive technologies across all of our instruments to change how cell sorters work and how they are built.

Interviewer: How do you see cell sorting and purification advancing in the next 5-10 years?

Dr. John Sharpe: As cell sorters get faster, smaller, more specialized and less expensive, we can expect to see the technology become more accessible and in greater use outside of core laboratories, just like we are seeing in the analytical cytometry space. I think that we will also see a greater level of interest in biosafety, since both users and oversight groups are beginning to express concern over the potential biosafety risks of existing cell sorters.

Interviewer: How will Cytonome’s products fit into these expected industry advances?

Dr. John Sharpe: We are already making a cell sorter that is small enough to fit on your desktop and other cell sorters that are powerful enough to find the rarest of cells. We are using new technologies to make our products faster, smaller and less expensive, and have research plans and partnerships in place to continue this trend. We have announced the first high-speed cell sorter with built-in biosafety (the Gigasort), and offer another cell sorter (the Viva) that can be fully enclosed in an unmodified biosafety cabinet. At the end of the day, we want to design simple, precise, accurate and high performance instruments that users love and can afford to use.

About Dr. John Sharpe

Dr. John Sharpe is the CEO of Cytonome. He was a former Director of R&D at Dako Cytomation, was involved with the team that developed the market leading MoFlo cell sorting platform and led development of the CyAn high performance analyzer. He has over two decades of experience in developing and commercializing advanced cellular analysis and purification technologies and is an acknowledged expert in flow cytometry and cell sorting technology. Dr. Sharpe and his team are bringing new and innovative products to the cell sorting market.