Rapid Micro bags $60M to grow microbial detection business 

The insides of Rapid Micro Biosystems' Growth Direct technology. (Rapid Micro Biosystems)

Rapid Micro Biosystems has raised $60 million to accelerate the growth of its microbial detection business. The financing sets Rapid Micro up to expand its commercial reach and build out operational capacity to support technology that automates the detection of microbes at drug production plants.

Lowell, Massachusetts-based Rapid Micro established itself as a disruptive force in the microbial detection field by enabling manufacturers to end manual processes. These processes, which remain the norm in the vast majority of plants, suffer from the same shortcomings as all manual activities, such as the risk of errors and a cap on how quickly and efficiently they can proceed. Rapid Micro is trying to eliminate these shortcomings with a device that allows users to walk away and leave robots to run the tests.

Major pharma and biotech companies have adopted the technology at some plants, but the overall penetration of automated testing is low, creating an opportunity for Rapid Micro and its backers.

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“The unique opportunity here is that this is a very large market that is being served by an approach and methodology that is 60-plus years old,” Jeff Schwartz, a managing director at Bain Capital Life Sciences, said.

Bain Capital co-led the $60 million financing with fellow new investor Xeraya Capital. Another new backer, Asahi Kasei Medical, also participated in the round. And existing investors Longitude Capital, Quaker Partners, TVM Capital and Richard K. Mellon and Sons returned, having helped Rapid Micro to a $25 million series C round in 2015.

Rapid Micro will use some of the money to ensure it has the commercial footprint to reach prospects around the world, and the global operational, manufacturing and supply chain capabilities to support them once they buy the system. In parallel, Rapid Micro will invest in product development to build on its existing platform technology with workflow enhancement and up- and downstream offerings.

The investments could open up new avenues of growth to complement Rapid Micro’s central pitch to persuade manufacturers to automate their testing operations. The pitch has several components. Notably, Rapid Micro thinks it can make testing for microbial contamination more efficient and faster, thereby cutting the time it takes to gain the information needed to ship a product or shut down a line.

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Those claims are central to the move toward automation, but in recent years factors outside of Rapid Micro’s control have added another plank to its pitch. With supply chains globalizing and regulators targeting data integrity failings, the ability to adopt the same automated process at every plant and remove human error from the equation is appealing. 

“No matter where this mission critical operation is conducted—which happens in every plant, in every region, in every part of the world—it's standardized. The company knows what they're getting, when they're getting it,” Rapid Micro CEO Robert Spignesi said.

Spignesi sees this strength resonating with Rapid Micro’s global pharma and biotech customers, which make up around 75% of its clients. Rapid Micro has got its foot in the door at these worldwide players. Now, it has a chance to further sell into these companies, using the standardization benefits to sweeten the offering.