Illumina buys Fluent BioSciences to better speak the language of single-cell analysis

Despite letting go of Grail last month, Illumina isn’t shying away from M&A. The DNA sequencing giant has now acquired Fluent BioSciences to expand its reach in single-cell analysis and multiomics research.

Launched in 2018 with tech developed at the University of California, San Francisco, Fluent was previously backed by Illumina’s independent venture capital arm. The startup’s other investors have included Samsara Biocapital, Civilization Ventures, Co-win Ventures and VC23.

The Watertown, Massachusetts-based Fluent has marketed single-cell RNA and nuclei isolation kits based on its PIPseq approach, short for pre-templated instant partitions—which can sort out and label complex cell mixtures without the need for microfluidic consumables prior to next-generation sequencing. The company also provides analysis software.

Fluent released its latest platform, PIPseq V, in late May. According to the companies, it is capable of quantifying molecules and detecting individual cell types from samples ranging from 100 cells up to 1 million.

“Single-cell research opens doors to new areas of discovery, and Fluent's innovative, accessible, and flexible single-cell method will accelerate our ability to deliver full multiomics solutions for our customers,” Illumina’s chief technology officer, Steven Barnard, said in a statement

Though currently described as a wholly owned subsidiary, Illumina said the Fluent team will eventually be folded into the company, while PIPseq will be integrated into its product portfolio. Illumina said it also plans to expand the startup’s approach into an end-to-end solution for single-cell analysis.

While the financial details were not disclosed, the company said the deal was closed and funded with cash it had on hand.

Fluent previously inked collaborations to make its kits compatible with DNA sequencers from companies such as Ultima Genomics, Singular Genomics and Element Biosciences, including projects supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. In its announcement, Illumina said it “will remain an open NGS platform and is committed to maintaining and supporting its existing single-cell partnerships.”

“Our goal is to continue to develop the sequencing ecosystem and support the best multiomics solutions like single-cell analysis,” said Barnard. “We want customers to have the flexibility to adopt the tools that best fit their needs.”