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Press Release
June 10, 2021
4 minute read

Newly Acquired Visikol Credits Robust NJ Innovation Ecosystem with Fueling its Success


Visikol Co-Founders Dr. Thomas Villani (left) and Dr. Michael Johnson grew their Rutgers University spinout into a globally-recognized company that was acquired by CELLINK for up to $19.5 million.

TRENTON, N.J. (June 10, 2021) – Hunterdon County-based Visikol made national headlines late last month when it was acquired by CELLINK for up to $19.5 million. The news came just weeks after the Rutgers University spinout received a $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to improve the diagnosis of metastatic melanoma. Both of these accomplishments mark the latest milestones for the contract research services company that provides over half of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies with tools necessary to discover and develop lifesaving and life-enhancing therapeutics.

Visikol offers its pharmaceutical and biotechnology customers an extensive portfolio of advanced imaging, digital pathology, and cell culture tools. Its proprietary versatile biological clearing agent, known as Visikol® HISTO, helps researchers in the fields of toxicology, pre-clinical drug development, clinical diagnostics, basic research and plant biology. The agent penetrates tissue and renders it transparent for optical analysis, greatly reducing problems with light scattering and enabling high-resolution images to be captured from biological tissues in 3D.

Visikol announced its acquisition by Sweden-based CELLINK, a global leader in bio-convergence, on May 20. The move will both expand Visikol’s visibility on the international stage and open a new market segment for CELLINK. Visikol Co-Founders Dr. Michael Johnson and Dr. Thomas Villani, who formed Visikol during their time as PhD candidates at Rutgers University, will remain at Visikol’s helm following the acquisition. Dr. Johnson noted that his company remains committed to expanding its footprint in the Garden State following the acquisition.

Started as a three-person operation in a lab at Rutgers University, Visikol has grown into a globally recognized company that currently employs 20 people at its 10,000-square-foot headquarters in Hampton.

“The meteoric success we have experienced in the worldwide marketplace would not have been possible without the support we received as a result of locating in the Garden State,” Dr. Johnson said. “From our very first days collaborating with Rutgers University professors to develop our technology up to our multi-million dollar acquisition by CELLINK, we have been impressed by the hand-on approach the State has taken to foster a robust innovation ecosystem.”

Visikol has leveraged resources from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) and the Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology (CSIT) throughout its entire lifecycle.

Shortly after spinning out of Rutgers, Visikol moved to the New Jersey Bioscience Center – Incubator at North Brunswick, where it benefited from educational programs and a host of supporting resources, including help to identify funding sources and access to small business development resources, networking opportunities, and administrative support. The Incubator offers 27 wet labs, the most of any incubator in the Garden State, and provided discounted first-year rent for university drug-discovery spinouts. Startups moving to the Incubator can also apply for rent support through the NJEDA’s NJ Ignite program.

Visikol also benefited from a $50,000 bridge grant through CSIT’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Direct Financial Assistance Program last year. In 2018, Visikol received a $225,000 Phase I SBIR grant from the NIH to develop a platform that improves diagnostic tests for research studying breast cancer. The funding provided from CSIT helped Visikol bridge the funding gap while it applied for Phase II of the federal program to expand into melanoma evaluation. Visikol received approval for the Phase II funding in late April 2021, which will enable to company to continue developing its tissue imaging platform.  The state SBIR/STTR Direct Financial Support program supports New Jersey companies vying for, or participating in, the federal SBIR/STTR program. It also enhances the state’s innovation economy by strengthening the competitiveness of Garden State businesses participating in the federal programs. To date, 29 early-stage New Jersey companies have received a combined $825,000 in funding through the program leveraging over $12 million in federal funding.

Visikol was also supported in 2016 by a $500,000 investment from Foundation Venture Capital Group, LLC, an affiliate of New Jersey Health Foundation. The funding helped Visikol scale up its operations in its earliest days. Located in New Brunswick, Foundation Venture Capital Group makes equity investments to participate in establishing and managing New Jersey biomedical startup companies headed toward commercialization.

“From the beginning, Visikol has leveraged many of New Jersey’s greatest assets to fuel its success and we could not be more thrilled for Michael, Tom, and the entire team,” said Kathleen Coviello, NJEDA Executive Vice President of Technology, Life Sciences and Entrepreneurship. “This is a true New Jersey success story and we are proud that Visikol continues to call the Garden State ‘home.’ We can’t wait to see what’s in store for them as they begin this newest chapter in their growth.”

Visikol and its co-founders have been nationally recognized for their accomplishments. Dr. Johnson was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 List in 2017 and again in 2019 when he was selected among all previous year’s honorees as one of the top three all-star alumni. Earlier this year, Visikol was named as one of Pharma Tech Outlook’s Top Emerging Pharma Outsourcing Companies of 2021.

About the New Jersey Economic Development Authority

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) serves as the State’s principal agency for driving economic growth. The NJEDA is committed to making New Jersey a national model for inclusive and sustainable economic development by focusing on key strategies to help build strong and dynamic communities, create good jobs for New Jersey residents, and provide pathways to a stronger and fairer economy. Through partnerships with a diverse range of stakeholders, the NJEDA creates and implements initiatives to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life in the State and strengthen New Jersey’s long-term economic competitiveness.

About the Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology

In August 2018, Governor Murphy signed legislation re-establishing the former New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology as the CSIT. Comprised of representatives from the public and private sectors, as well as academia, the Commission is tasked with leading the way in promoting the state as a home for academic and technological research, development, and commercialization.

To learn more about resources for businesses within New Jersey’s innovation ecosystem call NJEDA Customer Care at 609-858-6767 or visit https://www.njeda.com and follow @NewJerseyEDA on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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