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Invitrogen Inks Cancer Dx Pact with Signalomics; Welcomes Competition from Emerging Rivals

In the most recent in a series of efforts intended to push it further into molecular diagnostics, Invitrogen said this week that it would collaborate with German firm Signalomics to develop nanocrystal reagents for tumor identification.

The company also said it "welcomes" existing and impending competition from small, private shops because they will eventually become "collaboration" opportunities for Invitrogen.

Invitrogen has a variety of tools and technologies that it has acquired over the past couple of years that it believes can be employed in the roughly $2 billion molecular diagnostics space. Included among those technologies are assets currently being used in the collaboration with Signalomics that it gained through its acquisition of BioCrystal's BioPixels unit in October 2005 (see BioCommerce Week 10/13/2005).

BioPixels makes coatings and metal alloys for semiconductor nanocrystals that are applied to multicolor cell labeling, sorting, and imaging, as well as lateral flow immunoassays and fluorescent inks. Invitrogen said the combination of the technologies would enable it to create smaller, brighter, and lower-toxicity particles that do not blink.

One area of interest for Invitrogen could be "enabling" pharmaceutical companies that want to partner with diagnostic shops to develop companion drug-diagnostic products, or so-called theranostics, which a company official called an area of "exceptional growth."

Concurrent with the BioPixels purchase, Invitrogen also acquired Quantum Dot and its QDot semiconductor nanocrystals, which are micron-scale particles made from layers of semiconductor metals. According to Invitrogen, the particles demonstrate unique optical properties, such as photostability, narrow emission spectra, and brightness, and can be used in a wide range of applications in life-science research including gene expression, proteomics, and diagnostics.

Signalomics is developing a nanotechnology-based platform that combines designer proteins with fluorescent semiconductor crystals. The firm has been collaborating with BioPixels since 2004 and will now have access to the Quantum Dot technology as well. The goal of the development program is to provide researchers and physicians with tools for diagnosing cancerous cells in vivo in patient tissue and designing targeted signal-transduction therapies.

Building the Dx Foundation

Invitrogen's interest in the molecular diagnostics industry has been building over the past couple of years, and the company has made a string of acquisitions to bolster that play. In particular, its purchases of Molecular Probes in 2003 and its acquisitions of Dynal, Caltag, and BioSource last year were made with an eye on grabbing a chunk of the molecular diagnostics market.

The firm furthered this goal in January when it realigned its BioDiscovery unit into two divisions, Life Sciences and Enabling Technologies (see BioCommerce Week 12/8/2005).

The Enabling Technologies division, which now primarily targets the research market, will focus on nanotechnology, imaging and microscopy, cell separation and analysis, labeling and detection, bead-based separations, and the firm's antibody center of excellence. Invitrogen said this division will include its Molecular Probes, Dynal, BioSource, and Quantum Dot products — all of which Invitrogen acquired over the past two and a half years.

At the time of the realignment, Lucier said that "if you look at the capabilities in that business, it's really set up for broader applications," and cited molecular diagnostics as a field that would be served by the technologies that have been placed together in that division.

The realignment occurred after Invitrogen penned a pair of high-profile biomarker-discovery pacts last year with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Mayo Clinic. Invitrogen did not outline its specific objectives for these alliances, saying only that they will help the company adopt a "patient-centric" view.

In an interview at the time of the Hutchinson agreement, Claude Benchimol, Invitrogen's senior vice president of research and development, said the firm hopes to expand its presence in the clinical market — a strategy that included the creation of a corporate research laboratory (see BioCommerce Week 9/22/2005).

"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."

Welcoming Competition,
Seeking Collaborations

While Invitrogen aims to grab its own share of the molecular diagnostics market, a company official said this week that the firm "welcomes" existing and impending competition from small, private shops.

Speaking at BIO 2006 this week in Chicago, Todd Nelson, vice president of corporate development at the life sciences power house, said during a molecular diagnostics session that these companies will eventually become "collaboration" opportunities for Invitrogen.

Nelson, a session panelist, said he is "thrilled" that privately held companies have been developing technologies to play in a space for which Invitrogen is gunning. Specifically, he said he is glad that as these companies grow, they are transferring the "burden" of risk to venture capital companies — and presumably off of potential suitors — which will enable them to develop a wide array of diagnostic technologies.

To be sure, Nelson's remarks do not necessarily signal that Invitrogen has a molecular diagnostics acquisition in the breech. And though Invitrogen has not disclosed its specific plans for the market, CEO Greg Lucier has publicly said that the firm has no plans to become a clinical diagnostics company.

In the past, he said if Invitrogen wanted to buy a clinical diagnostics business it has the resources to do it, but it has no plans to take the company in that direction. Lucier had also said the company would not buy a contract research organization.

Though Invitrogen remains tight-lipped about its molecular diagnostics plans, Nelson said that one area of interest for the company could be "enabling" pharmaceutical companies that want to partner with diagnostic shops to develop companion drug-diagnostic products, or so-called theranostics. According to Nelson, this is an area of "exceptional growth."

Another hint of the company's interest in molecular diagnostics could be gauged in the fact that three out of the seven sessions in which Invitrogen was slated to participate at BIO 2006 focused on diagnostics (the other four were stem cell medicine, translational medicine, and general drug discovery and development).

Nelson also noted the company's plan to launch its CISH (chromogenic in situ hybridization technology) pathology products, which it inherited from Zymed after acquiring the company in January 2005 for $60 million (see BioCommerce Week 1/13/2005). However, he did not say when the company will roll out the line.

— Edward Winnick ([email protected])
and Kirell Lakhman ([email protected])

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