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Millipore Looks to Expand Cell-Based Assay Play by Launching GPCR Screening Service

Pulling together technologies that had been developed in-house and from its recent acquisition of Serologicals, Millipore last week bolstered its presence in the cell-based assay field by launching a GPCR screening service.
 
Millipore had been “slowly developing” its GPCR product portfolio over the past couple of years, a company official told BioCommerce Week, but the technologies it acquired along with Serologicals earlier this year enabled the firm to roll out what it believes is the most complete functional cell-based assay platform on the market.
 
The firm will be locking horns in the GPCR screening services market with some well-established firms including Invitrogen, Euroscreen, and Caliper Life Sciences’ NovaScreen business.
 
“Nobody’s currently offering this complete functional service that we provide,” said Theresa Schaub, product manager for the GPCRProfiler.
 
The firm believes that the GPCRProfiler screening service more accurately characterizes lead compounds than traditional binding methods by providing more comprehensive functional data.
 
According to Schaub, the service is “a complete and total product package. We offer three different services: profiling, screening, and dose-response. Also, we have membrane preps, cell lines for licensing, and we do develop custom cell lines for clients.”
 
She told BioCommerce Week that the firm had “developed a system that allows our customers to look at any GPCR through calcium mobilization, and that’s unique.Pretty much every person in pharma is going to have an instrument that can measure calcium mobilization or flux.” So, the market for its GPCR screening service should be fairly large.
 
Company officials would not disclose the price of the GPCRProfiler service.
 
GPCRs are one of the most prominent targets in drug discovery, along with kinases and ion channel cell lines. Industry participants have said GPCR screening is a rapidly growing field, and Millipore estimates that GPCRs comprise more than 40 percent of drug screening programs and are targets for more than 50 percent of currently marketed pharmaceuticals.
 
Capitalizing on the Serologicals Acquisition
 
Millipore’s $1.4-billion acquisition of Serologicals, which was completed in July, enabled the firm to access new high-growth research markets and placed it in more direct competition with several companies in the BCW Index (BioCommerce Week 4/26/2006). At the time the acquisition was announced, Millipore Chairman, President, and CEO Martin Madaus said the addition of Serologicals would enable Millipore to "optimize workflows from sample preparation, to developing and performing assays, to analyzing results.”
 
Taking advantage of the newly acquired assets, the GPCRProfiler service is partially enabled by Serologicals’ Chemiscreen technology, which funnels all GPCR signaling through real-time calcium mobilization.
 
In addition to GPCR screening services and technologies, Millipore gained a portfolio of ion channel cell lines and related screening services when it acquired Serologicals — which had acquired those capabilities earlier this year through its purchase of Cytomyx Ltd. for $7 million.
 
A Millipore spokesperson said the firm offers similar services to the GPCRProfiler for ion channel and kinase screening, but those services do not use Molecular Devices’ FLIPR platform, which is used in the GPCRProfiler service.
 
The GPCR assay market has attracted many tool vendors, including PerkinElmer, Invitrogen, Cisbio, and DiscoverX, whose assay products are distributed worldwide by GE Healthcare.
 
Molecular Devices’ FLIPR platform is thought to be the market leader for GPCR and ion channel screening instruments. But the firm faces a stiff challenge from PerkinElmer, which currently has a co-marketing pact combining Invitrogen’s Voltage Sensor Probes ion channel reagents with PerkinElmer’s CellLux platform.
 
GPCR assay and screening services firm Euroscreen also has worked with PerkinElmer to develop applications in the past, and it sees PE as its number-one competitor for GPCR-related reagents. PerkinElmer assumed this status after it swallowed two of Euroscreen’s competitors, BioSignal and Receptor Biology, several years ago through direct or indirect acquisitions.
 

A key advantage for the firm’s GPCRProfiler service is that after a first round of screening, “we can tell our customers whether or not they have an agonist- or an antagonist-acting compound.”

GE Healthcare, in an attempt to keep up with PerkinElmer in the GPCR reagent area, struck a deal with Euroscreen last fall, under which Euroscreen provides GE with a full product line of receptor membrane preparations, which it then sells under its own label.
 
Caliper’s acquisition of NovaScreen Biosciences in September 2005 brought the firm a large portfolio of cell-based assays, as well as a screening service business that offers more than 100 GPCR assays.
 
Though the field for GPCR screening services is getting increasingly crowded, according to Schaub, a key advantage for Millipore’s GPCRProfiler service is that after a first round of screening, “we can tell our customers whether or not they have an agonist- or an antagonist-acting compound.
 
“The way [Molecular Devices’] FLIPRworks is you can measure whether you are actually stimulating the receptor or inhibiting the receptor,” she said. “Most other services, what they do is just measure whether or not your compound binds to the receptor. We actually say, ‘not only does the compound bind, but this is what it does.’ We’re the only one to do that.”
 
According to Schaub, Millipore’s GPCR product portfolio is “relatively new. We’ve been in the business maybe two years, but have been very slowly developing our product line and our product portfolio. For the past six months, the cell lines and the membranes are something we’ve really been promoting,” she said.
 
Schaub noted that the service uses a common assay platform that simplifies data comparison and allows for correlating current data with historical data.
 
She said Millipore ran a “small beta test” on the screening service before the launch, and it has customers already using the service, though Schaub did not name any of these clients. However, she did say that they are primarily pharma and biotech company researchers.
 
According to Schaub, there are roughly 500 relevant GPCR targets that have been discovered, and Millipore currently has more than 100 for profiling and screening. “We’re looking to have 185 by the end of next year,” she said. “We feel that will represent what most people are interested in.”
 
The firm’s GPCR portfolio also includes filtration plates for looking at membrane-binding assays, said Schaub.
 
The service is being detailed by the firm’s generalized sales force, which is organized by region, not by product type, the Millipore spokesperson said. Following the acquisition of Serologicals, Millipore said it would have a worldwide sales, sales support, and service staff of roughly 1,200 people.

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