Sequenom's sales jump 158% as prenatal Dx heats up

Sequenom CEO Harry Hixson

Sequenom ($SQNM) has blazed a quick trail to the top of the prenatal testing space, and the company's revenue soared 158% to $38.5 million in the first quarter thanks to its flagship MaterniT21 Plus test.

Scaling up isn't cheap, of course, and Sequenom's costs more than doubled year-over-year, contributing to a $29.4 million net loss on the quarter, compared to a $24.4 million charge in the same period in 2012. Sequenom increased its diagnostics sales staff to about 84 last quarter, and the company is spending money in the short term to bring its billing and collections arms in-house.

Sequenom increased its total number of processed tests 250% to more than 44,500 on the quarter, leading to a 38% revenue boost for the Sequenom Center for Molecular Medicine, the company's CLIA-certified molecular diagnostics reference lab.

Leading the way is MaterniT21 Plus, a prenatal diagnostic that detects amounts of 21, 18, 13, X and Y chromosomal material in maternal blood, and CEO Harry Hixson said the company's work with the payer community has given more than 70 million patients access to the test.

"The volume of 35,000 MaterniT21 Plus tests accessioned in the first quarter shows that Sequenom CMM continued to take advantage of its first-mover position in the non-invasive prenatal diagnostic market by increasing its penetration of the NIPT market and maintaining its dominant market share," Hixson said in a statement.

But Sequenom is hardly alone in chasing profits in prenatal diagnostics. Verinata Health markets a similar test for chromosomal abnormalities, and, after Illumina ($ILMN) bought the company for $350 million this year, has a great deal of sales infrastructure already in place. Meanwhile, venture-backed Natera hauled in $54.6 million in financing this month to advance Panorama, a prenatal diagnostic the company touts as having the highest specificity of any test available.

- read Sequenom's full results