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With an Eye on Future Array Development, Invitrogen Licenses Affymetrix's Patents

Invitrogen has obtained a non-exclusive, worldwide license to a number of Affymetrix's micorarray patents, the firms announced this week.

Invitrogen is being tight-lipped about which patents it has licensed from Affymetrix and whether it intends to expand into the field of DNA microarrays, but it is clear the firm intends to expand its franchise in the non-coding RNA tools market.

"This was an opportunity for us to bring in some capabilities through additional intellectual property," said Greg Geissman, an Invitrogen spokesman.

Under the agreement, Invitrogen is allowed to "manufacture and sell spotted nucleic acid microarrays in the research field," the companies said. Financial details of the license were not disclosed.

Over the past few years, Invitrogen has played on the periphery of the microarray market, primarily as a provider of oligonucleotides, and the firm has supplied reagents to Affymetrix for some of its chips. But its presence in the field is growing.

Late last year, Invitrogen, along with partner Illumina, launched new tube-based oligos that enable researchers to buy twice as much primer for the same price as they previously paid for the same product. Invitrogen's ability to offer the oligos at that price is due to efficiencies at Illumina's manufacturing facility, which Illumina executed using Invitrogen's $3.4-million investment (see BioCommerce Week 12/23/2004).

"We're not concerned about OGT or anyone else. We have a variety of licenses which give us freedom to operate in this space."

The firm also sells protein arrays and recently introduced its NCode microRNA microarray platform. The platform consists of a miRNA isolation product, a labeling and detection system, an array for profiling microRNA-expression patterns, and some controls.

"We have the availability to develop array products and, at the present time, the arrays that we are focusing on developing are in the area of epigenetics," Amy Butler, vice president of gene expression profiling for Invitrogen, told BioCommerce Week. "We have plans to develop additional arrays in the [non-coding RNA] field in the not-too-distant future."

The firm is competing directly in the emerging miRNA market with Applied Biosystems and GE Healthcare, which both launched miRNA assays late last year. But unlike these competitors, Invitrogen does not offer any instrumentation.

Though research on microRNAs has been going on for at least a couple of decades, it remains a nascent field with potential applications in identifying biomarkers for cancer, stem cell research, and developmental biology.

The miRNAs fit in with Invitrogen's plans for developing biomarkers for the molecular diagnostics market, Peter Jozsi, Invitrogen's manager for NCode, told BioCommerce Week last November (see BioCommerce Week 11/17/2005). "We are already evaluating and have some interesting results in-house using these arrays to profile stem cells," he said.

Asked whether the licenses cover DNA microarrays, Butler replied, "I can't comment on the specifics of the agreement."

She also would not say if Invitrogen had taken a license from Oxford Gene Technology, which holds a broad-based microarray technology patent and has launched several lawsuits against competitors in the field.

"Invitrogen has all the licenses it needs currently for the products it now has," said Butler. "I don't want to officially list what all those agreements are, but we're not concerned about OGT or anyone else. We have a variety of licenses which give us freedom to operate in this space," she said.

The licensing deal is the third in seven months for Affymetrix, which is the dominant player in the microarray market for gene expression applications. In April, the microarray company licensed patents to Abbott Laboratories to enable it to manufacture and sell comparative genomic hybridization microarrays, readers, and software for research and diagnostics.

Last December, Affymetrix licensed an undisclosed number of patents to ABI related to the manufacture, sale, and use of microarrays for gene expression analysis. ABI is a distant third in the microarray market for gene expression applications, trailing Affymetrix and BCW Index rival Agilent.

— Edward Winnick ([email protected])

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