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Packard Gearing Up To Compete in Microarray Manufacturing

NEW YORK, Oct. 13 – In announcing that it had secured a key patent for its robot-controlled manufacturing methods, Packard BioScience Company of Meriden, Conn. said Friday it is gearing up to be a serious competitor in the contentious microarray market.

“We’ve been quietly laying the groundwork to be a leader in the chip business for the last seven years, and now we’re hitting the commercialization phase” said Jason Alter, director of business development for Packard BioScience. “What drives me crazy is reading these market research reports that don’t mention us.”

The company plans to position itself in the microarray market by carving out intellectual property space for its proprietary ink-jet robot-controlled microarray printing methods, as well as by producing chips in its own facilities and in partnership with other microarray makers.

The patent issued Friday, which covers Packard’s ink-jet printing methods, is the third patent the company has recently been granted. A number of patents are currently pending.

Packard has placed its robotic ink-jet arrayers in over 20 different companies and has licensed the robots to Motorola for production of Motorola’s BioChips. Packard is planning to begin in-house testing of a second-generation robotic arrayer within the next two weeks, Alter said.

Meanwhile, the company entered into a partnership in September with Oxford GlycoSciences to produce protein chips. These protein chips, which are expected to enable clinicians to detect disease earlier and less invasively, using blood or urine in most cases, have been scheduled to hit the market in a year to 18 months.

But long before the protein chips arrive, Packard plans to begin producing DNA microarrays at its own facilities. “We’ve built a clean room and we should be producing chips there by the first quarter of 2001,” Alter said.

Packard’s microarray technology is superior to other methods, according to Alter, because it allows for last-minute flexibility in design changes, offers the most technically consistent spot size, and the best quality control.

The ink-jet printing technique allows a manufacturer to custom print any DNA or protein samples given to it by a customer, and to change the arrangement and number of genes on a chip at short notice.   

Agilent Technologies of Palo Alto, Calif., also produces its microarrays through a customizable ink-jet printing method. But Alter said that Packard’s ink jet system has the unique ability to aspirate samples for dispensing, allowing quantities of a sample as low as two to twelve microliters on a tip.

Alter also believes the robotic features of Packard’s system allow for a higher quality chip than other methods do, because it is more precise in spotting the arrays. “We have 100 percent fidelity on the chip,"   he said.

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