Picoliter Inc. Announces First Patent Issued

Covers Acoustic-Mediated Liquid Transfer from Most Microwell Plates

July 16, 2003
Mountain View, CA
Mountain View, CA, July 16, 2002—Picoliter Inc. announced today that it has been awarded its first U.S. Patent (No. 6,416,164) entitled “Acoustic Ejection of Fluids Using Large F-number Focusing Elements”. The patent broadly claims a device and method for dispensing droplets using acoustic energy generated by an external source and focused with a lens having a relatively large "F-number”.  The use of such lenses allows for precise dispensing of droplets from containers of varying size and shape, including "tall" containers in which the depth of the fluid can be significantly greater than the width of the container.  Examples of such containers include commercial microplates, which are commonly used in high throughput screening, diagnostics and life science research.

"The ability to move small amounts of liquid is critical to the life science research and development,” said Elaine J. Heron, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer.  “Picoliter Inc. has developed technology to enable extremely small volume transfers from the high-density microplates including those with 384, 864, 1536 and 3456 wells. It works even when the fluid level is more than twice as high as the well is wide, the format of most high density well plates.”

Pharmaceutical and biotech companies have been moving towards higher density microplates to improve throughput and decrease the cost of identifying potential drugs.  One of the barriers to increasing density has been lack of a reliable instrumentation for small volume transfers.  The PicoliterTM liquid handling technology provides a solution and is effective in narrow containers with high aspect ratios. With the ability to rapidly transfer droplets as small as 0.1 picoliter (a picoliter is a millionth of a millionth of a liter) and as large as one microliter, the company’s technology has broad applications in high throughput biological research and development.

Since all commonly used microwell plates share the same 85 by 128 millimeter footprint (approximately 3.5 by 5 inches), the wells of high-density plates necessarily have very small diameters.  For example, the wells of 1536-well plates are less than 1.5 millimeters wide, making it difficult to insert a tube or pin into the well to draw out fluid for a transfer.  The newly patented technology from Picoliter projects acoustic energy through the bottom of the well and the solution to cause a droplet to be ejected from the fluid surface.  What is particularly valuable is that this process does not involve dipping anything into the well fluid, eliminating any chance of fluid contamination.

Picoliter Inc. is a privately held, development stage company located in Mountain View, CA.  The company has developed a novel technology for moving and analyzing small amounts of liquid using ultrasound energy.  The PicoliterTM liquid handling technology has broad applications in the life science tools market including dispensing equipment, microarrays, and living cell transfer devices.  The company’s initial products will enable researchers to reduce the amount of expensive reagents used in drug discovery and development assays by a factor of 10 to 100.  In addition to the newly issued patent which represents Picoliter's first issued patent in the United States, the company has over 25 patent applications pending with the USPTO as well as additional international filings.

Members of the Picoliter management team have successfully brought a wide variety of products based on new technologies to market.  The company includes individuals with experience in senior management, array/consumables manufacturing, business development, intellectual property protection and product development at Affymetrix, Applied Biosystems, Eastman Kodak, Incyte, International Paper, Molecular Dynamics, Packard Instruments, Symyx, and Xerox PARC.

Picoliter Inc. has received $27.1 million in two rounds of financing.  Series A was provided by Delphi Ventures and Alloy Ventures, who are represented on the board of directors by Paul Auerbach, M.D. and Craig Taylor, respectively. The recently completed Series B was co-led by Abingworth and Sprout Group, each with long histories in supporting successful life science firms.  Jonathan MacQuitty, Ph.D. of Abingworth and Vijay Lathi of Sprout Group have joined the company’s board of directors.