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NimbleGen Hopes to Transform Custom Microarray Market

NEW YORK, February 27 – Mike Treble, CEO of NimbleGen, believes that he can do for the microarray market what the PC did for computing, namely develop a technology cheap enough and easy enough to use to allow individuals to make their own high-quality microarrays.

"Our long term strategy over the next two to three years is to produce instruments that will allow core centers to produce their own DNA chips,” Treble told GenomeWeb. 

While many academic centers already produce their own arrays, Treble, who was formerly chief operating officer at Third Wave Technologies, calls these systems “spotters and spitters.” Using fluidics, he said these systems can reliably produce arrays with only 2,000 to 5,000 data points.

NimbleGen's technology, by contrast, allows it to produce chips with up to 195,000 data points per chip, Treble said. Currently, the Madison, Wis.-based company is developing custom DNA chips as well as the prototype for a computer-driven chip making instrument with a single moving part. Treble said that this device could offer biopharma and academia a reliable and cost- effective solution for making their own chips.

NimbleGen has so far raised $4 million in private financing and is currently in the midst of raising another $10 million to $12 million, Treble said.

The core technology that NimbleGen uses in its chips is a micromirror made by Texas Instruments, which it happens to use in their film projectors. UV light is directed through the mirror to activate reactions that build up nucleotide bases on specific points on the chip. 

The chemical terminator is opened up with UV light. The mirror can be redirected to different points to selectively activate or deactivate them, just the way that masks are used to selectively activate or deactivate specific points on an Affymetrix GeneChip.

“What we are capable of doing is eliminating the chromium masks used for making chips,” Treble said. “By eliminating that we greatly reduce the developmental expense and the long lead time of creating those masks.”

Despite this possible advantage over Affymetrix, Treble says NimbleGen doesn’t want to go head-to-head with the microarray leader. Instead, the company is aiming for the custom microarray market that Agilent and others are currently targeting. While Agilent can routinely make custom chips with 2,000 to 10,000 data points, Treble said his company can do 20 times that number.

NimbleGen plans to put its chips in alpha sites this summer and beta sites by the fall, but does not plan to launch its chip-making platform to beta sites until early 2003.

“Our intention is not to do a broad-based launch until we have built the infrastructure of the company up to accommodate the needs of the market,” Trimble said.

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