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ABI Targets Q4 for Worldwide Sales of Its Expression Analysis Microarray Platform

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Applied Biosystems will first commercialize its Expression Analysis platform in Japan, officials said last week as the company announced its fiscal second-quarter earnings.

“We expect to begin unrestricted sales of the Applied Biosystems Expression Array System in Japan during the current quarter, and in the rest of the world during the fourth fiscal quarter,” Mike Hunkapiller, president of Applied Biosystems said in a conference call with financial analysts on Wednesday, Jan. 28. The company’s fiscal second quarter ended Dec. 31.

ABI’s entry into the microarray arena is a highly anticipated one as the company, which had revenues of $840 million for the six months ending Dec. 31, dominated the sequencing market, but faces flat-lining revenues from its sequencing segment and is seeking other growth opportunities.

Hunkapiller has described the chemiluminescence-based technology the company has developed for massively parallel gene expression analysis simply as “a better mousetrap.” The company provided details to the industry in October at the Chips to Hits conference (see BAN 11/5/2003).

The official commercial availability of the platform has been a moving target since July when ABI, a unit of Applera, on July 22, issued a statement to introduce “the first gene expression analysis product for whole human genome analysis on a single microarray” at the same time that Affymetrix, Agilent, and NimbleGen Systems, were announcing similar products initiatives (see BAN 7/30/2003). In the July statement, the company said the “new expression array system is expected to ship to customer test sites this fall and be available for commercial release before the end of calendar year 2003.” However, in December, the company said the product would likely (see BAN 12/17/03) launch in January.

Now the company has said the overall commercial launch will take place during the quarter beginning April 1, and that it will roll out the product in Japan this quarter, facing a market where the distribution of government funding for scientific research is in transition. National universities are scheduled to become independent research agencies this year, joining the country’s national research institutes in a reform effort instituted by the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2001.

“It is a significant change in the process by which funds from the government [flow] into the research labs,” Tony White, Applera’s chief executive officer, said in the conference call. Also, Hunkapiller said in the conference call that the transition will lead to lower than expected [overall] sales in Japan during the remainder of fiscal year 2004. He declined to provide analysts with any guidance on anticipated revenue from sales of microarray products from the overall commercial launch of the platform in the fourth fiscal quarter of 2004.

He did, however, say that the company has “several products under development that can utilize” technology from Boston Probes, a company that is developing peptide nucleic acid technology, and which ABI acquired for $33 million in November 2001.

Kathy Burzik, executive vice president of ABI, said the company will target the platform at core labs, academic centers, and the pharmaceutical industry.

— MOK

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