April 30, 2014 in Business, City

Signature Genomic Laboratories to close by mid-2014

By The Spokesman-Review

Signature Genomic Laboratories, a pioneering Spokane-based tech company that once had 120 workers, will close by mid-2014.

Tuesday’s announcement by parent company PerkinElmer means the company, formed in 2003, will shut its doors and lay off around 80 employees.

The north Spokane company provides scientific, DNA-based tests to identify genetic disorders in embryos or babies.

PerkinElmer, based in Massachusetts, paid $90 million for Signature Genomics in 2010, and said it’s halting future tests by the Spokane firm at the end of the week.

An email from PerkinElmer’s communications company said: “Changing market conditions, including a highly unfavorable reimbursement environment, combined with a significant decline in demand for invasive procedures due to the uptake of non-invasive prenatal testing, contributed to this decision.”

The email from PerkinElmer did not say when the Spokane office’s last work day will be. It did not disclose how many workers remain at Signature Genomic Labs.

The email said: “We will focus on assisting Signature Genomics’ employees through this transition and providing our customers with immediate access to alternative providers for microarray testing.”

The two co-founders of the company, Dr. Bessem Bejjani and Lisa Shaffer, originally came to Spokane after being recruited as researchers by Washington State University.

The two founders remained with the company until PerkinElmer acquired the firm. Both have been away from Signature Genomics.

The company’s early growth was fueled in part by significant financial backing from Sacred Heart Medical Center and Pathology Associates Medical Labs. The company became quickly profitable in large part for being the first diagnostic lab to offer microarray-based tests for a range of prenatal and newborn medical conditions.

Signature Genomics also obtained a significant infusion of cash from Ampersand Ventures and jVen Capital, two major companies who invested in biotech companies.

Because of its technology, Signature Genomic Labs was able to recruit skilled technicians and genetic diagnosticians from across the country.

Area economic development advocates used Signature Genomic Laboratories as Spokane’s showcase example of how cutting-edge technology and an innovative team of executives could produce scores of high-paying local jobs.

When it bought the Spokane firm, PerkinElmer executives praised the Spokane team for creating a strong set of products that would complement its own medical equipment line of business.

PerkinElmer had more than 8,000 employees based in more than 150 countries in 2010.

Microarrays are laboratory sheets that contain thousands of human genes which are tested for alterations in DNA. To obtain embryonic DNA for its microarray tests, doctors remove cells from the embryo using a needle-based procedure called amniocentesis.

Newer tests developed by a variety of other companies now use blood draws for DNA testing. While noninvasive, those blood based tests are limited to identifying far fewer conditions than the more than 100 that microarray tests cover.

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