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AP Biotech to Focus R&D on Microchannel Technology

NEW YORK, Jan 15 – Amersham Pharmacia Biotech plans to focus “the majority” of its R&D efforts on the development of microchannel chips it recently licensed from DNA Sciences, said Mark Sutherland, AP Biotech’s vice president of genomics.

“The microchannel chip is really a next generation platform technology for us,” said Sutherland. “We see hanging a number of individual genomics applications [off of it]. We could even find a home for [microchannel technology] in proteomics, in drug screening, and in other facets of our drug discovery business at AP Biotech."

AP Biotech and DNA Sciences recently inked a three-year, $7.5 million research and development agreement to develop DNA Sciences’ microchannel plate technology, GenomeWeb reported Friday.

Under the agreement, AP Biotech will gain the exclusive rights to commercialize and market the microchannel technology, Sutherland said. This agreement is a way for DNA Sciences, which has launched its population genetics analysis and diagnostics business in the last year, to gracefully exit from developing tools and instrumentation, its original core business, according to Sutherland.

AP Biotech is interested in developing the microchannel platform not only because DNA Sciences claims it is five times faster than current sequencing methods, but also because it requires smaller samples and shorter run times than capillary channel systems like the Megabace and can be more automated.

The platform uses an automated loading system that injects tiny volumes of samples onto a finely etched microchannel plate. The samples are then transferred into six-centimeter separation channels and separated into the nucleic acids through electric charges. As different nucleotides take different amounts of time to move through the channel, the DNA sequence can be detected by these rate variations, DNA Sciences said in its S-1 filing.

But this technology “is more than just a chip sequencer,” Sutherland said. DNA Sciences will primarily use it for genotyping, along with the SnuPe reagents it has developed in collaboration with AP Biotech. But the technology can also be used for fragment analysis, de novo sequencing, and more aptly, for confirmatory sequencing in diagnostic applications.

While other companies such as Caliper Technologies already produce microfluidics devices, the microchannel platform is different, Sutherland said. He noted that microfluidics lab chips generally allow researchers to run one sample at a time, while the microchannel platform is designed for 96 samples at a time. The microchannel device also incorporates AP Biotech’s proprietary four-color fluorescent labeling system and can integrate other sequencing technology AP Biotech has developed as well.

DNA Sciences said in its S-1 filing it expected to receive the microchannel technology by the end of the year under terms of an early access agreement.

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