Life sciences briefing: Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007

Featured companies: Mawell, OpGen, Vital TherapeuticsOptical genome-mapper OpGen raises $23.6M in a restart — OpGen, a Madison, Wisc., biotech developing a genomic test for identifying disease-causing microbes, raised $23.6 million in what the company is billing as a first funding round. In fact, however, the funding is more of a restart for the company, which was founded in 2001 and previously provided genomic services to researchers.

OpGen is now focused on developing speedy genome-based tests that can help identify and track infectious disease microbes. The company has set its sights on clinical microbiology laboratories as potential customers; such laboratories now try to identify the source of a patient’s infection by growing up the responsible bacterial in culture, a process that can take days. OpGen’s technology, which identifies patterns in single molecules of DNA to identify particular microbial strains, can deliver answers within two to three hours, the company says.

Investors included CHL Medical Partners, Highland Capital Partners, Versant Ventures and Mason Wells.

Vital Therapies gets $28.1M for artificial liver — San Diego’s Vital Therapies, a device maker developing an “artificial liver,” raised $28.1 million in a third funding round. Investors included Versant Ventures, Delphi Ventures, HBM BioMed China, DFJ DragonFund China, MedVenture Associates, Valley Ventures, Toucan Capital and Heights Capital.

Vital’s main focus is on a cartridge-style device that mimics the toxin-breakdown and waste-filtering function of the liver. The device, which contains artificially grown human liver cells, is intended for use while patients await a liver transplant. The device has completed four early-to-mid-stage trials, two of them in China, where prevalent hepatitis frequently contributed to liver failure.

Finland’s Mawell draws €8M for healthcare IT — Helsinki’s Mawell, a bioinformatics company providing software and services to drug companies and hospitals, raised €8 million ($11.1 million) from the private-equity firm CapMan, VentureWire reports (subscription required). CapMan will become Mawell’s largest owner.

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