Lab-on-a-chip leader Caliper
finds hazards on pioneer trail

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July 15, 2002 — Despite a recent shift in its upper management, Caliper Technologies Corp. is still moving steadily toward its original goal: to be the Intel of the lab-on-a-chip market.

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Founder Michael Knapp, formerly vice president of corporate development, took over the chief executive position July 2 from Daniel Kisner, who moved into the position of chairman of the board. William Kruka, formerly of Applera Corp.’s Applied Biosystems Group, took the post of vice president of business development.

Caliper Technologies is a pioneer in microfluidics, where micronscale channels etched on a chip can analyze mere nanoliters of biological material, replacing bulky test tubes. Labs-on-a-chip could make all kinds of laboratory testing faster, cheaper and more accurate.

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The pioneer life can be lonely and fraught with hazards.

“We’re in the front part of the technology adoption cycle, and we’re trying to figure out what our metrics of performance mean,” Knapp said.

The core of Caliper’s product line is its LabChip, the first commercially available product based on the technology. The chips can be made with any of hundreds of different patterns to accommodate various uses. The flow of fluids is computer-controlled using pressure and electrical current.

The centerpiece of Caliper’s current business is an agreement with Agilent Technologies Inc. to supply LabChips for use in the Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer for DNA, RNA and protein analysis. Agilent accounted for 32 percent of Caliper’s revenues last year. Caliper also markets two analyzers of its own.

Knapp expects to expand the business of making chips for other equipment manufacturers once the company’s exclusive agreement with Agilent ends in May 2003. Details of a new nonexclusive agreement are being hammered out.

Caliper’s technology is being auditioned by a number of blue-chip pharmaceutical customers, including Pfizer Inc., Eli Lilly and Co., Amgen Inc., Pharmacia Corp., and Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories.

Competition is fierce. Companies like Aclara Biosciences Inc., Fluidigm Corp., Micronics Inc. and Orchid Biosciences Inc. are developing their own microfluidics products. And the technology itself is being squeezed on two sides: by traditional methods that are well entrenched, and by other equally disruptive technologies that also have a legitimate shot at changing scientists’ habits.

“You always have to ask whether chip technology is the best solution,” said Caliper co-founder Mike Ramsey, a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory whose groundbreaking lab-on-a-chip patents form the foundation of Caliper’s IP portfolio. Simple sensors are being developed for many kinds of tests, and may prove more appealing for some uses, he said.

Lab-on-a-chip has a relatively small market penetration, said Tamara Zemlo of the Science Advisory Board, which regularly surveys life sciences professionals. A recent study of more than 300 proteomics researchers — theoretically prime customers for microfluidics products — showed that only 6 percent are using the technology now, and another 20 percent plan to begin using it in the next year. The other 74 percent aren’t using it and don’t plan to. “It’s a little too out-there for most people,” she says.

In the same study, a question about microfluidics vendors rang no bells with most of the respondents. Among the 60 or so who recognized any companies in the field, Caliper ranked as the third-most-familiar company. The first was Caliper’s main customer, Agilent, and the second was Pierce Biotechnology, which markets products by Micronics.

Like other biotech companies, Caliper has been hammered by the market. Having reached almost $40 on its opening day of trading in December 1999, Caliper’s stock is now in single digits and its available cash and securities, about $160 million worth, exceed its current market capitalization.

Caliper’s portfolio of intellectual property, anchored by dozens of patents and pending patents from Ramsey’s group, gives it a sterling pedigree. An analysis recently published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review ranked Caliper’s patents among the most influential, based on the number of times they have been cited as prior art by more recent patent applications.

“The hard nut to crack is finding the killer app,” Ramsey said. “I’ll consider the product successful when I can buy one at the drug store to do a home diabetes test.”


Company file: Caliper Technologies Corp.
(last updated July 15, 2002)

Caliper Technologies Corp.

Ticker symbol
Nasdaq: CALP

605 Fairchild Drive
Mountain View, CA 94043-2234

The company was founded in 1995 as the exclusive license holder of lab-on-a-chip technology developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It later acquired ChemCore, a University of Pennsylvania spinoff microchip diagnostics firm. In fall 2001, Caliper spun off Amphora Discovery Corp.

Biotechnology, microfluidics

Small tech-related products and services
Caliper’s LabChip products range from high throughput screening systems to chip-based bioanalysis systems — co-developed with partner Agilent Technologies Inc. — to an applications developer program (ADP) designed to give Caliper customers background and training in microfluidics and instrumentation.


  • Michael Knapp: CEO, co-founder
  • James Knighton: president
  • J. Wallace Parce: VP research, co-founder
  • Employees

    Investment history
    Beginning in March 1994, 19 investors participated in five rounds of Caliper funding prior to the company’s $72 million IPO in December 1999.

    Selected strategic partners and customers

  • Agilent Technologies: Caliper’s LabChip is part of Agilent’s bioanalysis system. This sales relationship accounts for more than 30 percent of Caliper’s revenues.
  • Amphora Discovery Corp.: A Caliper spinoff founded to develop a comprehensive chemical genomics database.
  • GlaxoSmithKline: ADP customer
  • NASA: The U.S. space agency and Caliper are collaborating via the ADP on developing macromolecular crystals using LabChip technology.
  • Wako Pure Chemical Industries: Wako acts as the Japanese distributor for LabChip systems.
  • Revenue
    FY 2001 (ended December): $29.6 million

    Barriers to market
    Resistance of research community to converting to a new platform, development of alternative methods to accomplish the same goal.

    Short term: To get to profitability and not squander our money. Long-term: To be the Intel of the lab-on-a-chip market.

    What keeps CEO Michael Knapp up at night
    “Making things work. It’s not trivial to be a manufacturing company. We have to staff two eight-hour shifts, keep the clean room working 16 hours a day and bring our yields up so our costs go down.”


  • Aclara Biosciences
  • Amersham Biosciences
  • Applera
  • Beckman Coulter
  • Bio-Rad
  • BioTrove
  • Fluidigm
  • Invitrogen
  • Micronics
  • Molecular Devices
  • Nanolytics
  • Nanostream
  • Orchid Biosciences
  • PerkinElmer
  • Contact
    Phone: 650-623-0700
    Fax: 650-623-0500

    Selected patents
    Caliper holds more than 100 patents. Below are selected recent patent awards:

  • Method and apparatus for continuous liquid flow in microscale channels using pressure injection, wicking, and electrokinetic injection
  • Controlled fluid transport in microfabricated polymeric substrates
  • Closed-loop biochemical analyzers
  • Microfluidic systems
  • Recent news
    Caliper reshuffles its top jobs
    Caliper opens European subsidiary
    Caliper files patent lawsuit against Molecular Devices

    — Research by Gretchen McNeely


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