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Ciphergen Prepares to Step Up Chip Preparation and Analysis

MALVERN, Pa., April 11 – Ciphergen Biosystems, makers of the ProteinChip protein affinity array, is ramping up its efforts to automate the preparation and analysis of its chips, the company said Wednesday.

The push to increase the number of spots on each of Ciphergen’s chips—currently either six or eight—is part of an effort to make the chips more effective at identifying multiple markers associated with disease, said William Rich, Ciphergen’s CEO.

“Looking at single protein markers is a very poor way of looking at phenotypes [associated with disease],” he said, citing the example of the test for prostate specific antigen, or PSA, which often falsely indicates a patient has cancer. “Multiple markers give much higher confidence" that the patient actually has the disease.

To increase the capacity and throughput of the ProteinChip system, Ciphergen scientists at the company’s Biomarker Discovery Center in Fremont, Calif., are developing chips with 16 spots, and an automated sample preparation and analysis system that will accommodate a microtitre plate with 384 wells, or 24 of the 16 spot chips lined up in an array.

Ciphergen is building its “autosampler” using commercially available microtitre robotics systems, manufactured by companies such as Beckman Coulter, and combining the robotics with multivariate statistical analysis tools being developed by Ciphergen and several undisclosed partners, Rich said.

Currently, the Ciphergen’s Fremont discovery center can provide combined preparation and analysis of 96-well microtitre plates, or an array of 12 eight-spot chips, Rich added. By the early summer, Ciphergen’s Malvern facility should have similar capabilities, with the larger arrays and autosampler becoming available later in the year.

Ciphergen's revenues currently stem primarily from sales of its ProteinChip system, however, the company expects a growing percentage of its business to come from biomarker discovery services over the next three to five years. Ciphergen posted revenues of $8.9 million in 2000.

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