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Microarrays May Be In Its Future, But For Now Qiagen Prefers to Partner

Though Qiagen has in-licensed technology that would enable it to develop its own microarrays, it has decided to pursue supply agreements with companies already in that field, a company spokesperson told BioCommerce Week.

Last week, Qiagen signed a supply pact with its second microarray partner, Osmetech, under which Osmetech will incorporate Qiagen's preanalytical consumables and technologies into its microarray products for research and in vitro diagnostic applications.

The pact follows an ongoing, similar collaboration between Qiagen and Affymetrix, signed in 2003. Qiagen expects to ink more collaborations in the microarray field going forward, according to a company official, with an eye toward becoming the standardized preanalytical technology for the microarray field — a field that has yet to set standards.

"When everybody is using Qiagen products for sample preparation, it will be more and more difficult for other companies to enter this area," said Solveigh Maehler, director of investor relations for Qiagen.

Though Qiagen's pact with Affy is significant — the company is the dominant player in the market with a roughly 70-percent share — the deal is not exclusive, and this week Affymetrix announced that it would provide Agencourt Bioscience's RNAClean target preparation product in reagent kits for its GeneChip Array Station (see briefs).

"Microarrays might be a good approach to do near-patient testing, but I don't think [Qiagen will sell microarrays] in the near future. Maybe as a long-term option."

Qiagen also may have difficulty gaining status as the standard preanalytical technology, as the next tier of microarray firms, including Applied Biosystems and GE Healthcare, sell their own sample-prep technologies with their arrays. Agilent, a BCW Index firm and major player in the microarray field, did not answer questions about its sample-prep offerings by press time.

Qiagen has been steadfast in focusing on preanalytical technologies and molecular diagnostics, including array technologies, as it expanded its portfolio of products over the past couple of years. And while the firm in-licensed technology from an undisclosed partner that would enable it to make its own arrays, that path appears unlikely — at least in the short-term.

Developing and selling microarrays "might make some sense in some specific areas," Maehler said. "But given that Affymetrix is such a big company and such a market leader already in this area, I doubt that we really will get in this field."

She declined to provide details on the in-licensed microarray technology, but noted that its development hasn't been a focus for the firm. "Microarrays might be a good approach to do near-patient testing, but I don't think [Qiagen will sell microarrays] in the near future. Maybe as a long-term option," she said.

Qiagen could follow a similar strategy in the microarray field that it employs in the molecular diagnostics area. The firm has a diagnostics sales force that focuses on integrating its sample-prep technologies into existing platforms, but as of this past summer, it also sells the firm's own assays.

Qiagen has partnered with other molecular diagnostic firms — most notably Roche — to supply preanalytical technologies for their assays. But Qiagen threw its own hat into the ring as an assay developer with its acquisition of Artus earlier this year (see BioCommerce Week 6/2/2005).

The acquisition marked the first time that Qiagen would expand beyond sample prep and into selling assays, a potentially risky plan that could put off potential partners in the molecular diagnostics field. While Qiagen officials were concerned about that possibility, its biggest partner in the field, Roche, saw the purchase as a benefit, according to Maehler.

"Before we acquired [Artus], we had a lot of meetings with Roche on compliance agreements, but also to make sure they don't see us as a competitor in their field, because they are one of our most important partners on the sample-preparation side," Maehler said. "It was very surprising to see they were very comfortable with Qiagen acquiring Artus, a molecular diagnostics company."

She said Roche's reasoning was that by acquiring Artus, it believed Qiagen would gain greater experience working with diagnostics, and therefore would be able to develop better sample-prep technologies as the molecular diagnostic field evolves.

In addition, she noted, "We don't think we really compete against other companies being in the same areas of testing, because we are really focusing with our diagnostic tests on niche markets." She didn't specify what those niche markets are.

Partnering with Osmetech

Maehler said she couldn't provide specific terms of the pact with London-based Osmetech, but termed it a "normal supply agreement." Under the alliance, Osmetech will sell certain Qiagen preanalytical consumables for use with the firm's eSensor microarray-based amplification and detection system.

Osmetech gained rights to the eSensor system through its July acquisition of Motorola's Clinical Micro Sensors division, which had been the remaining half of Motorola's microarray business following the sale of its CodeLink business to Amersham Biosciences (now part of GE Healthcare) in 2002. The eSensor platform complements Osmetech's PCR-based OptiGene system for biomarker identification.

According to Maehler, the eSensor tests that will incorporate the Qiagen preanalytical chemistries are a cystic fibrosis test and CYP450 pharmacogenomic assay. Maehler said Osmetech is in the process of applying for US Food and Drug Administration approval for the tests and expects approval in the first half of 2006.

— Edward Winnick ([email protected])

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