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Eyeing Diagnostics Market, Invitrogen Signs Mayo Biomarker Discovery Deal

Until this week, Invitrogen’s method for quickly expanding its product pipeline — and its top line — was via acquisition.

Highlighted by its $325 million purchase of Molecular Probes in August 2003, the company has expanded its product offerings like an accordion player stretching his arms, buying and integrating eight companies over the past two years to create a broader multiplatform product portfolio of molecular biology instruments, reagents, and services.

On Monday, the company took a new direction in its business development by announcing a biomarker research collaboration with the Mayo Clinic that not only marks Invitrogen’s initial foray into the estimated $20 billion molecular-diagnostics market, but also the company’s first alliance with a large-scale research institution. The agreement is part of a ramp-up of Invitrogen’s internal research efforts, which include the establishment of a corporate research laboratory.

Invitrogen will provide financial and research support for multiple biomarker discovery programs at Mayo Clinic, and will have an option to license and develop resulting technology on an exclusive and non-exclusive basis, the company said in a statement. The Mayo Clinic will contribute patient samples and expertise in diagnostic assays.

“Our objective with this agreement is to generate new enabling technologies for doctors, patients, and the larger health-care community,” Greg Lucier, Invitrogen chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

The market for molecular biomarkers, diagnostics, and related molecular clinical lab services in 2003 was about $6.1 billion, according to an August 2004 study by market research firm Fuji-Keizai USA.

It’s a market that has been pushed to the forefront by US Food and Drug Administration, which has put biomarker development on its “Critical Path” initiative (see article, page 4) to speed drugs to market, and by the National Cancer Institute, which recently awarded $9.8 million to 17 biomarker developmental laboratories within its Early Detection Research Network.

The objective of the Mayo Clinic agreement is to develop new diagnostic and prognostic tests in the emerging area of personalized medicine, the company said in a statement.

Invitrogen technologies available to the collaboration include the company’s human protein microarrays products, engineered cell lines, cell-based assays, and cloning and expression technologies, the company said in a statement.

“Invitrogen and Mayo Clinic working together have the potential to significantly advance this important new field,” Curtis Hanson, chairman of Mayo’s laboratory medicine and pathology department, said in a statement.

Tycho Peterson, an analyst with JP Morgan who follows Invitrogen, told BioCommerce Week that the deal likely will not have any short-term influence on Invitrogen’s revenues or profits, but it does provide the company with potential access to new technologies.

The Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit organization with a $300 million yearly research budget, has recently announced biomarker discoveries in a variety of areas, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, myeloma, and kidney cancer.

According to its Office of Technology Commercialization, the Mayo Clinic is engaged in more than 660 technology-licensing agreements, has 1,350 patent applications, and owns over 300 patents for its intellectual property.

Mayo Clinic officials were not available for comment before publication deadline.

A New Era

For Invitrogen, the collaboration marks the “start of a new era,” Claude Benchimol, senior vice president of research and development, told BioCommerce Week.

“About a year ago, at our guidance conference, we highlighted the fact that we were going to get engaged in more long-term, more medically dedicated research,” said Benchimol, who took a newly created position at Invitrogen in 2003, leaving General Electric Medical Systems, where he was vice president and general manager of global technology for the unit’s information technology division.

The Mayo collaboration is part of Invitrogen’s commitment to expand its presence in the clinical market, a promise that also includes the creation of a corporate research laboratory, he said.

“We want to become more medically relevant and closer to our customers,” Benchimol said. “We want to engage in collaboration with academic and research institutions, as well as other customers to help solve big problems. In joining with the Mayo Clinic, we are collaborating with one of the premier institutions in the world.”

Benchimol said the Mayo collaboration would be handled in association with the company’s emerging research laboratory organization, which will be directed by Joe Beechem, who is chief scientific officer at Invitrogen’s Molecular Probes subsidiary.

The new research organization will ramp up to 40 people in 2005, with an undisclosed number of scientists. Most will be located at the company’s Carlsbad, Calif., headquarters, Benchimol said.

The laboratory research unit’s responsibility is to engage in “higher-risk, higher-reward” efforts that are clinically relevant and aimed at solving big problems, said David Odelson, Invitrogen director of corporate development, who will oversee the laboratory group, and also joined Beechem in negotiating the Mayo collaboration.

Odelson said the Mayo effort goes beyond just technology sharing.

“We don’t view it as a beta-testing agreement,” he said. “This [agreement] is driven from the research side and we mean to learn from both sides.

“We will have meetings at [Rochester, Minn.] in February in the snow, and they will be here [Carlsbad] in the heat in July. It’s a way for both of us to advance our capabilities.”

The program will initially focus on the “big four” cancers — biomarkers for prostate, breast, lung, and colon cancer — Benchimol said.

“The idea is that we are going to show the power of all these tools used in synchrony and use them to solve big problems,” said Benchimol.

Mayo has the samples and the expertise in the development of assays, said Odelson. Access to the technology, he said, will be based on researcher interest.

While GE Healthcare said it would like to be the leader in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer (see story, page 1), Benchimol said Invitrogen, too, is ready to step up.

“GE is a great company, but we believe that we are a good one too,” he said.

“GE has an imaging background and they are moving to molecular biology. Molecular biology is in our genetic makeup, and we will clearly try to make our contribution, with all the skills we can bring.”

He said that Invitrogen hopes to have significant biomarker contributions within “the next couple of years.”

“This isn’t about dreaming,” he said.

—Mo Krochmal ([email protected])

 

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