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FEATURE: Motorola Signals Strategy to Reach Full Spectrum of DNA Detection Market

NEW YORK, July 4 - Communications giant Motorola has been sending out signals lately that it’s ready to reach both researchers and diagnostic labs with its DNA array products.  

Motorola Biochips, the Northbrook, Ill.-based division of Motorola involved in developing the CodeLink arrays for researchers, said it is already making pitches to potential customers for its first 10,000 gene human microarray, which the company plans to have ready to ship in large volumes by August.

Meanwhile, Motorola’s Clinical Microsensors (CMS) division, the diagnostic arm of the company’s life sciences initiative, has launched several projects to develop specific diagnostic applications of its eSensor diagnostic platform, including a diagnostic assay for approximately 12 SNPs in the CyP450 area.

We are looking at “the full value chain from research to discovery to trials to diagnostics, with different products targeted to different types of needs,” said Randy Levine, director of business development for eSensor.

In part of this effort, Motorola has begun consolidating CMS, a Pasadena, Calif., company it acquired last June and the Biochips division into one umbrella organization called Motorola Life Sciences. “This has been happening ever since we purchased CMS about a year ago,” said Levine. “Obviously, there’s still a great deal that goes on independently for each of the product lines.”

This independence is still marked by separate web sites for CMS and Motorola Biochips, as well as separate communications teams and product teams – a potentially confusing feature for outsiders.

“We are still working on updating our websites to combine the two, but to help the confusion, we say that Motorola Life Sciences has two product groups, the eSensor and CodeLink,” said a Motorola spokesperson for eSensor.

While this coordination is still a work-in-progress, one hand of Motorola’s life sciences effort may not need to know what the other is doing since the two groups are targeting different markets.

The 10K human microarray is aimed at the same researchers who use Affymetrix gene chips and will compete in the same field with the soon-to-be-launched Corning 10K arrays as well as Incyte’s Human Unigene and Human Foundation LifeArrays, which contain just over 9,200 genes and ESTs.

These chips contain pre-spotted oligonucleotides on an open glass slide and can be used with most chip readers and scanners, such as the Axon scanner, said Nancy Schmelkin, marketing director for CodeLink. 

The CodeLink arrays were designed with the help of Compugen’s chip design services. Compugen offers specialized protocols for designing arrays that it says minimize probe errors and can differentiate from different splice variants of genes.

Previous reports have speculated that Motorola and other large companies could undercut Affymetrix by producing higher volumes of chips at a lower price-per-chip, but Schmelkin said the company is not planning to present CodeLink products “as low cost arrays.” Instead, Motorola is aiming to convince researchers with the quality of the arrays.

“As we release the performance characteristics of CodeLink they will distinguish our arrays from what’s currently available,” said Schmelkin. The company is planning to release a 10K rat array subsequent to the human array.

On the diagnostics end, Motorola has been beta-testing applications of its eSensor platform, which is comprised of a benchtop electronic detection system for DNA diagnostic probes. The system is designed to read and analyze chips with up to 37 analytes each, after the analytes are purified and amplified with PCR. One version the eSensor 1200, reads 12 chips at a time, while the eSensor 4800 reads 48 chips at a time.  The system is designed for clinical labs and even larger doctors’ offices. “It is really an ideal design not only for diagnostics now but for where we think diagnostics is going,” said Levine. 

Although the company developed its CyP450 assay on its own, it is pursuing partnerships with other organizations that can provide the content for a future portfolio of gene-based assays. In December, CMS unveiled the first of these partnerships: a collaboration with GeneScan to develop tests for genetically modified crops. The company has also discussed an academic collaboration with the UCLA molecular genetics laboratory to develop tests for genetic diseases. Motorola has “a substantial number” of other collaborations in development, which it has not yet made public, said Levine.

“We are positioning ourselves as the universal platform” for DNA-based testing, Levine said. “We want to partner with people who have content.”

Motorola aims to refine the eSensor system so it can handle and amplify the sample in an automated fashion, using proprietary Motorola microfluidics technology. The company recently received a $5Million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop its microfluidic Multi-Chip-Module genetic analysis sample preparation systems.

Skeptics have noted that Motorola has been talking up CodeLink and eSensor for a long time. The company said back in October 2000 that it would be launching CodeLink in the first quarter of 2001. The company also said when it unveiled the eSensor last November that it would begin manufacturing the system in the second quarter of this year.

But Schmelkin said Motorola is already doing demonstrations for Customers, testing eSensor in real labs, and planning large- scale shipments of CodeLink. “Clearly, we are very far along in both the research and diagnostic ends of the business,” she said.

This story originally appeared in BioArray News, a weekly biochip and microarray newsletter. For more information, go to www.bioarraynews.com .

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