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Agilent Adds miRNA Chips to Portfolio In Bid to Attract Pharma Customers

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Agilent Technologies has added a microRNA platform to its array portfolio and will begin shipping product to customers this month, according to a company official.
 
Agilent is also betting that the miRNA array will attract drug makers, especially those working in oncological research.
 
Agilent will debut its Human 1.0 miRNA microarray product two years after the first miRNA chips hit the market, but the company believes that its ability to offer customers a wide variety of technologies, from hybridization stations to scanners, analysis software, and a robust labeling technique, could play in its favor.
 
Yvonne Linney, head of Agilent's genomics business, told BioArray News last week that Agilent will begin shipping the array within the next two weeks, and that it will comprise all known human miRNAs from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute's mirBASE version 9.1 in an eight-array format that takes advantage of Agilent's multi-assay capabilities.
 
Agilent’s microarray kit will come with three slides or 24 microarrays, Linney said. Also included will be a Cyanine-3 pCp labeling reagent that is sufficent for labeling all 24 reactions, and protocols for labeling, hybridization, scanning, and data analysis.
 
According to Linney, Agilent plans to follow the launch of the Human 1.0 microarray later this year with a more comprehensive catalog miRNA array that will include updated human content as well as miRNAs from other model organisms such as mouse and rat. These follow-ups will come with a new labeling kit. Agilent said future chips will have updated content.
 
Over the past few years Agilent has made steady progress in growing its array portfolio beyond standard gene-expression products; the firm has debuted chips for comparative genomic hybridization, chromatin immunopreciptation (ChIP)-on-chip, and methylation applications. This expansion has helped the company grow market share at a time when the gene-expression market is widely believed to be plateauing.
 
"I think the important thing we've done is expand [our] application base. We've made a strong showing in array CGH and microRNA is another application that we could grow there," Linney said.
 
Linney also said that the firm's miRNA array would target pharmaceutical companies and clients that are working in oncology research, customers that Agilent may have not reached with its previous menu of applications.
 
"For us we feel there are a lot of potential new customers," Linney said. "There's a big interest from pharma and additionally we haven't had that much uptake of our technology in the pharma space, so that's a great opportunity for Agilent."
 
Linney added that to reach more pharma customers, Agilent will provide protocols for working with formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded samples, and will also put custom miRNA content into Agilent's eArray web-based designing portal. The miRNA platform will be sold through existing channels in the company's genomics business, Linney added.
 
Labeling 'Leap Frog'?
 
Part of what is stirring Agilent's entry to the miRNA array market is the belief that its assay will "leap frog" rival products, said spokesperson Stu Matlow.

The assay was recently discussed in the January edition of the journal RNA, where Agilent scientists described an miRNA profiling assay that uses direct labeling using Cy3 or Cy5 without a fractionation or amplification step, and attaches the miRNA probes to stilts for better sensitivity [Wang H, et al. Direct and sensitive miRNA profiling from low-input total RNA. RNA. 2007 Jan;13(1):151-9.]

 
Agilent decided to put its miRNA probes on stilts because they are typically 20 nucleotides long, a set-up that the company believes will increase the sensitivity of the arrays.
 
"We are obviously not the first company to offer any type of [miRNA] solution," Linney said, alluding to competitors like CombiMatrix, Invitrogen, Applied Biosystems, and Exiqon who have had miRNA arrays in the market for over a year. "From where we are, we are still working on the experimental design and making sure we have a robust design to go forward, and I think that some of the key discoveries we've made makes it sufficient to say, 'Hey, we can offer the market something that isn't out there,'" she said.
 
Agilent isn’t the only miRNA array vendor to talk up its probe design and labeling technology. Invitrogen, which rolled out the second version of its multi-species NCode miRNA product last fall, also sees its strength in its labeling system, according to Amy Butler, vice president of gene-expression profiling at Invitrogen.

Butler wrote BioArray News in an e-mail last week that the NCode labeling system uses DNA dendrimers with Alexa fluor dyes that provide a "strong signal with minimal background, [and] outperform all other commercially available labeling methods." Like Agilent, Invitrogen has also been targeting the pharma and oncology markets.

"We have seen significant interest in the NCode portfolio from the pharma and biotech industry," she wrote. "To date we have seen the most interest by those studying cancer or stem cells," Butler added.

Søren Echwald, director of business development at Danish miRNA company Exiqon, told BioArray News in an e-mail that the firm's probes, which make use of locked nucleic acids, are superior to rivals that use the "same old technology that has not been performing well in every application."

 

"I think the important thing we've done is expand our application base. We've made a strong showing in array CGH and microRNA is another application that we could grow there."

Echwald wrote that Exiqon is currently planning a third update to the miRcury LNA-based array it launched in 2005 later this year. He said this update will "include added proprietary features based on customer recommendations and our own R&D efforts" — not just miRNAs from the Sanger mirBASE.
 
He added that Exiqon has seen pharma usage because there is a growing realization in pharma that miRNAs could be a tremendously important element in understanding pathways and mechanisms in existing drug-development programs for small molecules and in future discovery programs in search of new drugable targets.

Other competitors in the miRNA array space include Applied Biosystems, which sells the miRvana miRNA profiling array it acquired through its purchase of Ambion's research productsdivision last year. The miRvana arrays are based on GE Healthcare's CodeLink platform, which will soon be discontinued, but a company spokesperson told BioArray News that ABI has not made any decision to change its miRvana offering yet.

Also using miRvana arrays is Asuragen, the Austin, Texas.-based successor to Ambion's diagnostics division that currently serves the market through an miRNA expression profiling service based on the miRvana platform.

Scott Hunicke-Smith, vice president and general manager of Asuragen, told BioArray News via e-mail this week that Asuragen will also soon launch a service that uses the Affymetrix platform to complement its miRvana service.

"We will soon be offering a global microRNA profiling system based on the Affymetrix platform, called DiscovArray," he wrote. "This new platform will enable Asuragen to offer putative content, even exploratory content contributed from the community, and it will all be curated consistently and with microRNA target prediction as well."

However, Asuragen does not intend to become a catalog array vendor like Agilent or Invitrogen. Instead, it will stick with its service model.

 
"The whole field moves further faster when issues of analysis processes, method qualification, and instrument validation can be handled uniformly from the beginning," Hunicke-Smith wrote. "Asuragen Services saves dozens of labs from spending countless person-months just to gain a basic level of proficiency before generating any useable data."

Affymetrix did not return an e-mail seeking comments on any internal plan to offer miRNA arrays. Illumina CEO Jay Flatley declined to comment on whether the firm had an miRNA array platform in R&D.

 
Linney said last week that she is certain that Agilent will not be the last company to enter the market for miRNA arrays.

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