Sony tunes in to microfluidics

Electronics powerhouse acquires diagnostic equipment provider Micronics

Kimberely Sirk
REDMOND, Wash.—SonyCorp. announced at the end of September that it has acquired U.S.-based microfluidicsleader Micronics Inc. Sony, through its subsidiary Sony Corp. of America,acquired the company to accelerate its own research and development prowess,particularly for point-of-care diagnostic equipment, as well as to acceleratethe commercialization of these products.
 
Micronicspossesses a portfolio of point-of-care products for disease detection,diagnosis and treatment monitoring. The company employs a patent estate inmicrofluidics and related technologies that make it possible to processbiological and environmental samples directly in disposable, single-use devicesand to perform highly accurate and affordable tests in a fraction of the timerequired by most molecular diagnostic tests in use today. The company has mostrecently developed expertise in infectious disease point-of-care diagnosis.
 
 
Near-patientpoint-of-care diagnosis refers to the ability to facilitate rapid and accurateresults via testing that can be performed in a physician's office, emergencyroom or patient's hospital bedside, rather than having to send a patient'sspecimen(s) to an off-site laboratory.
 
 
A Sony USAspokesman said that his company began studying a number of potentialacquisition candidates about a year ago. Micronics was one of these companies.Sony at that point determined that Micronics would provide effective complementto Sony's assets. Micronics has well-regarded and globally recognized technicalprowess, including its microfluidics and development expertise, and boasts an impressivepatent portfolio, he adds.
 
 
Micronics wasthe first company to obtain U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearanceon a microfluidics device for rapid blood typing, and has also accumulated awealth of expertise through its comprehensive product development forthird-party clients. Integral to success in these areas are Micronics' corecapabilities in microfluidics, surface chemistries, materials science and assayintegration.
 
 
Micronics willcontinue to operate in Redmond, Wash., and will continue to be run by itspresent management team, lead by President Karen Hedine. It will work closelywith Sony's life sciences R&D team to jointly develop leading-edgetechnologies and new products. More specific business plans and objectives werenot disclosed, and neither party to the deal would divulge financial details.
 
 
Utilizing itsmicrofluidics technologies, one of Micronics' main strengths since itsinception in 1996, the company has blazed a trail in the advancement ofnear-patient point-of-care products in both the molecular and immunoassaydiagnostic test domain, in part through its collaborative partnerships withprivate and public organizations, both within the United States andinternationally.
 
 
Today,Micronics holds 73 issued patents and has more than 40 pending applications onits microfluidics technologies, including those exclusively licensed from theUniversity of Washington and additional intellectual property that it hasdeveloped independently.
 
"As a newmember of the Sony family, we at Micronics aim to make full use of Sony'ssuperior consumer-based technologies, product development capabilities andcapacity to distribute products globally in the development of Micronics'products," said Hedine in a prepared statement. "We believe that the powerful combinationof Sony's expertise with that of Micronics' will lend itself to a newgeneration of market-responsive diagnostic products."
 
Hedine wasunavailable for additional comment.
 
 
"For sometime, Sony has applied its consumer electronics technology to contribute toresearch and development in the medical and healthcare fields," offered KeijiKimura, executive vice president and CEO of the parent Sony Corp., in aprepared statement. "We believe that the combination of Micronics' developmentcapabilities in the medical diagnosis domain and our consumer electronics andIT technologies, such as in optical discs, will enable us to offer innovativesolutions that are responsive to the rapidly escalating needs for point-of-carediagnosis worldwide."
 
An early funderof Micronics was the Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund. Pat Morand,managing director of the Fund, as well as a member of Micronics' board ofdirectors, says it was his organization's confidence in Hedine and the momentumof the company that caused the Michigan concern to reach into Washington stateto make an investment.
 
"I've knownKaren for 15 years," Morand says. "We of course did our due diligence, and ourorganization not only invests in companies, but we invest in people, and that'sthe combination we had here."
 
 
Morand addsthat there were discussions about relocating part of Micronics to Michigan, butnow that the Sony deal has been done, those discussions have ceased. He addsthat the Fund is very pleased with the return on its investment, but would notprovide addition details about payments made now, or those in escrow.
 
The SouthwestMichigan First (SWMF) Life Science Fund is a $100 million limited partnership venturefund interested in early-stage life-science opportunities in the Kalamazooregion that have demonstrably viable therapeutic technologies. Not only does itseek to turn a profit for its investors, but it also only invests in companiesthat already have a presence or are committed to establishing a presence inSouthwest Michigan.
The Fundprovides equity investment to entrepreneurs and also offers support services inthe areas of industry expertise, regulatory strategy, reimbursement planning,exit strategies and early-stage business systems.

Kimberely Sirk

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