Helicos slashes staff in half in restructuring

Starved of cash, Cambridge, MA-based Helicos BioSciences has cut its work force in half, laying off 40 people as it changes its focus to the diagnostics side of the business. The move earned a bit of respect on Wall Street, where its battered shares climbed 11 percent--to 62 cents--in after-hours trading.

Helicos says in a release that half of the 40 staffers staying on the payroll are being supported by NIH funding for the company's work on DNA and RNA single molecule sequencing technology.

"In our first quarter 2010 regulatory filings, we stated that we were considering alternatives to our existing long-term strategic focus, including the repositioning of the company in the genetic analysis markets," said Helicos CEO Ron Lowy. "During this process, we have engaged a variety of consultants in the genomic research, services and diagnostics industries to evaluate available alternatives and, as a result of this evaluation, we believe that our proprietary technology is uniquely suited for the diagnostics markets."

Last September Helicos reported that its scientists had mapped RNA without first translating it to DNA. They promised to make that new approach to sequencing commercially available this year. And none other than Harvard's George Church heralded the advance of a more efficient approach to sequencing. Helicos also revealed last August that it was down to $5 million in reserves, just enough money to get through the first quarter.

- here's Helicos' press release
- here's the Reuters story