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Seeking Slice of Primary Screening Market, Fisher s Cellomics Unit Inks Pact with Evotec ...

Cellomics signed a co-development and co-marketing agreement with Evotec Technologies this week that will provide the firm with its first play in the high-end market of using cell-analysis instruments for primary screening.

Cellomics, which is part of Fisher Scientific's Fisher Biosciences business, already competes in the lower-end cell-analysis market for developing assays, but it is looking to expand its customer base as well as provide existing clients with an opportunity to get involved with high-throughput, primary screening. Though it is fighting for a share of what is now a rather small market, the payoff could come in the future as more drug firms and big labs switch from biochemical assays to using live cells.

Fisher granted Germany's Evotec non-exclusive rights to Cellomics' high-content screening patents, including broad claims to HCS technology and specific classes of HCS assays such as cytoplasm-nuclear translocation, characterization of cellular toxicity, and receptor internalization. But perhaps more importantly, the firms signed a co-development and co-marketing pact that could open up new market opportunities for Cellomics.

"There are definitely different customers we will be reaching, because through Evotec's Opera [platform], we will have more of a foray into that primary screening group," said Judy Masucci, director of marketing and sales support for Cellomics. "With our [ArrayScan] platform, there are primary screening labs that are interested in HCS technology and have used the ArrayScan to do primary screens … but it takes longer."

"There are definitely different customers we will be reaching, because through Evotec's Opera [platform], we will have more of a foray into that primary screening group."

She said traditional HTS labs would be more interested in Evotec's Opera, which can screen hundreds of thousands of compounds a day. "What the collaboration allows us to do is offer our customers everything from a low price to high price, lower functionality to higher functionality, lower speed to higher speed, through our own offerings as well as what Evotec has," Masucci told BioCommerce Week.

"Through our partnership with Evotec we're able to address all markets, whereas previously we didn't really have that high-end, high-speed instrument," she said. In the lower end of the HCS market, Cellomics competes with a number of BCW Index firms, including GE Healthcare, Molecular Devices, Thermo Electron, PerkinElmer, and former BCW Index firm Becton Dickinson.

Masucci would not disclose the number of salespeople working for the Cellomics division or how many would be involved in the co-marketing efforts with Evotec.

Evotec has said that its Opera system can cost as much as €700,000 ($855,000) for a fully equipped version. In comparison, GE's IN Cell 1000 costs approximately $450,000 (it doesn't disclose pricing for the 3000 system), and Cellomics' ArrayScan typically sells for $250,000 to $350,000, depending on the configuration of the system, said Masucci.

In addition to the ArrayScan, which Cellomics considers a medium-throughput screening instrument, the Fisher unit also sells an entry-level HCS instrument called CellWorx, through a pact with Applied Precision (see BioCommerce Week 11/3/2005). That instrument sells for roughly $140,000. It also offers refurbished ArrayScans at a much lower cost — $100,000 to $200,000 — to academic researchers that can't afford an HCS instrument, Masucci said.

But How Big Is The Market?

The market for high-end HCS instruments for primary screening is quite small right now. Masucci cited market research reports that placed the entire HCS instrument market at only $40 million to $45 million in 2006 — and of that, perhaps as few as 6 percent of those sales would come from researchers using high-end HCS instruments for primary screening. The majority of sales, roughly 55 percent, would be to researchers conducting lower-end assay development.

However, she said that users of Evotec's Opera instrument would likely fall into the secondary screening market as well, which would account for an additional 39 percent of the total figure. Altogether, that would place the market potential for Evotec's and GE's competing instruments at slightly more than $20 million for 2006.

The promise for the companies selling to the primary screening market is that they may be able to eventually replace biochemical assays, which are the current standard in drug research labs at biotech and pharmaceutical companies. And industry experts are predicting that drug firms will continue to migrate to live cell research.

Panna Sharma, CEO and managing partner of TSG Partners, a life sciences advisory firm, recently told BioCommerce Week that he sees a trend of pharma companies spending more money on cell-based analysis early in the drug development process. "The cells market is … poised for long-term growth. It doesn't have the 40- to 50-percent growth that RNAi has, but it's a much more sustainable market," he said (see BioCommerce Week 1/18/2006).

Focus on Informatics

Masucci said the co-development pact with Evotec is similar to a project the firm did with GE Healthcare for its IN Cell 1000 and 3000 systems. "We'll make what's called an HCS gateway, which is an interface from the Evotec instrument to our informatics data-management and storage back end. But unlike the other agreements that we have, in this one we're actually doing more co-development and co-marketing activities," she said.

"Cellomics' core expertise is creating the informatics solution to manage the data," said Masucci. "We made an interface for GE after they took their license, and Evotec, in addition to taking a license, also has a co-development agreement, which will result in an interface and potentially some other projects." She declined to provide details of what those other projects might entail.

In that respect, Cellomics' plan for the high-end, primary screening market is similar to the one employed by Thermo Electron, which last week launched its HCS WorkCell platform at the LabAutomation 2006 Conference in Palm Springs, Calif. The turnkey platform will integrate other firms' HCS imagers into instrumentation developed by Thermo (see BioCommerce Week 1/18/2006).

Like Cellomics, Thermo believes a key selling point for its system is its software capabilities. "We think we're clearly differentiated from people who are just offering robotic-type solutions, which are left up to the customer to try and interface into their system," Christopher McNary, Thermo's vice president and general manager of Laboratory Automation Solutions told BioCommerce Week. "We've invested a lot of effort … to come up with software that integrates the back-end data side seamlessly into LIMS or other informatics systems."

— Edward Winnick ([email protected])

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