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ABI Brings Service and Product Arms Together in Clinical Trials Assay Analysis

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 7 - Applied Biosystems said today it has partnered with the clinical trials consortium Immune Tolerance Network to study genes associated with the body's immune response.


In the three-year agreement, ABI will analyze human clinical samples for about 1,000 genes it targeted and created assays for in an earlier project with ITN. The goal of the research is to identify markers which can be used to monitor immune disease progression and patient response to treatment, Vicki Seyfert-Margolis, director of the Tolerance Assays group of ITN, told GenomeWeb. Ultimately, the group would like to learn enough about the body's immune processes to design therapies for organ transplantation to eliminate the need for a lifetime of immune suppressive drugs, said Seyfert-Margolis. ITN is also studying immune response modulation in autoimmune diseases, allergy, and asthma.


The agreement involves a payment to ABI for its analysis services, though the organizations wound not disclose financial details of the deal.


ITN is an academic clinical trials group based at the University of California, San Francisco. The group, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, oversees clinical trials and assay development.


"Right now we know more about the immune response in mice than we do in people," explained Seyfert-Margolis. "We now have a very powerful tool that, when incorporated into the ITN's extensive clinical trial program, should provide our first real portrait of the genetic regulation of human immune responses and their response to therapy."


ITN also uses Affymetrix gene chips, which Seyfert-Margolis said complemented ABI's assays. The gene chips "cast the net wide [but] the technology is not as quantitative" as the assays, she said.


This is ABI's first deal which combines its services arm with assay products, said Nathan Caffo, senior business manager for genomic services at ABI. It is also the first time the services group has received clinical samples to evaluate, he added. The samples are delivered by a third party as purified RNA.


Tying together "services and products gives us multiple different ways to interact with customers," said Dennis Gilbert, vice president of genomics at ABI.


Acknowledging the difficulty of making money in the service sector, Caffo explained that running a business model that also happens to sell "our own products" can be an advantage in the market, and "lets us know problems our customers may have." He also said the work being done by the services group would help to establish Taq-Man as a "standard."


Approximately two thirds of the assays developed with ITN are available through ABI as Assays-on-Demand, said Caffo. The complete set of approximately 1,000 assays are slated to be available by the spring.


ITN will make a list of the genes and clinical trials protocols public, said Seyfert-Margolis.

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