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Agilent Buys Computational Biology to Clinch Market for New DNA Microrray Applications

Agilent Technologies on Wednesday announced the acquisition of Cambridge, Mass.-based Computational Biology Corporation, and with it, access to intellectual property that will allow it to expand its microarray product line to include new DNA-based commercial applications.

Richard Young and David Gifford of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the co-founders of Computational Biology, will retain their academic posts but will join Agilent as consultants in commercializing technologies utilizing microarray-based chromatin immunoprecipitation — so-called ChIP-on-chip — techniques and protocols.

Chris van Ingen, the head of Agilent Technologies’ Life Sciences and Chemical Analysis business unit, told analysts in New York City in December that DNA-based analysis using microarrays could produce revenue growth of 8 to 12 percent, compared to single-digit growth in RNA-based analysis (see BCW, 12/16/2004).

The new capabilities acquired in the Computation Biology transaction can fuel a market that will grow to $100 million by 2007, Fran DiNuzzo, vice president and general manager of Agilent’s Integrated Biology Solutions business unit, said in a statement.

“The reason for that growth is the scientific impact that [ChIP-on-chip and comparative genomics] can have on medical research, particularly on cancer,” he said.

Agilent did not disclose financial details of the deal.

ChIP-on-chip microarray analysis is used to analyze in parallel how transcription factors and other regulatory proteins interact with the genomes of living cells.

Agilent has obtained exclusive access to US Patent No. 6,410,243, “Chromosome-Wide Analysis of Protein-DNA Interactions” owned by the Whitehead Institute and licensed exclusively to Computational Biology.

New Manager

Kevin Meldrum, previously director of business development for the LSCA unit, will become manager of the new ChIP-on-chip business and will report to Fran DiNuzzo.

Meldrum said Agilent feels the intellectual property acquired in this deal will be a buffer against competition and indicates a change at Agilent.

“We are being more aggressive in establishing intellectual property and working with the leaders in the field,” Meldrum told BioCommerce Week

. “With this we are getting into an emerging application area that is very hot, and we are not second or third to market,” Meldrum said. “We are right up there as one of the leaders in the field.”

Diversifying Array Portfolio

For Agilent, which is regarded as the No. 2 microarray manufacturer behind Affymetrix, the deal is part of a microarray-industry-wide trend to open new markets to fuel growth as the once-rocketing RNA-based microarray market for whole-genome arrays reaches maturity.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company is already manufacturing custom microarrays for these applications, but will have to develop specific product sets with sample-preparation workflows, software, and protocols before ramping up its manufacturing line for a catalog product launch within six months, Meldrum said.

He described the vision for the product line as a combination of catalog and custom product, with a turnaround time of one to two weeks, utilizing the flexibility of Agilent’s ink-jet based microarray manufacturing processes.

While pricing for the chips hasn’t been determined, Meldrum said the process of designing chips would be similar to Agilent’s current catalog products, which include “bald spots” where custom content can be arrayed.

Growth Prospects

He said the product line could drive incremental growth from Agilent’s microarray customer base as well as create new interest in the academic and industrial sectors.

“It is a way to better understand the mechanisms that control gene expression,” he said. “The data would be very complementary with data from expression chips for any cell line or model organism, and give more of an idea of the triggers that cause differential gene expression that occurs in disease tissue versus healthy tissue. And, transcription factors are fairly prevalent targets for pharma.”

The company is not disclosing any financial targets for a breakeven for the new business, he said.

“Our strategy is to expand the applications you can address with array technologies,” he said. “This is one of the key application areas that sit on top of the product platform. We are going to really focus our effort on transferring the technology from [Richard Young’s] lab and improving on that.”

Cambridge Facility

As part of that transfer, Agilent will open and staff a new facility in Cambridge, Mass., for this business and move its demonstration facility from its present location in Beverly, Mass.

“We think we can ramp this business up fairly rapidly,” he said.

The deal arose out of a meeting between an Agilent scientist and Young at the annual Institute for Systems Biology retreat “a couple of years ago,” said Meldrum. Negotiations took place over the last six months, he said.

He said the technology involved will be compelling in a commercially manufactured product.

“You can start to see new biological phenomena that was in the noise before,” he said.

Affymetrix, in collaboration with NimbleGen Systems, manufactures a similar technology available to collaborators in the NIH ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) project.

— Mo Krochmal ([email protected])


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