Agilent Technologies, looking to reach new customers in the research market and better serve its existing clients, said last week that it plans to upgrade its newly launched eArray 4.0 online array-designing tool and expand its microarray subscription program to Europe.
According to company officials, both the eArray upgrade, due this summer, and the subscription program expansion, which will take place later this month, reflect Agilent's desire to capitalize on its size, perceived flexibility, and support capabilities. It also occurs as some of Agilent's top rivals, like GE Healthcare, are enhancing their online custom array designing offering.
Scott Harrison, Agilent's product marketing manager for eArray and custom arrays, told BioArray News last week that the company had launched the free eArray 4.0 in March, and that version 4.5 of the online tool will become available in mid-summer.
With eArray 4.5, Agilent "will be enabling gene expression probe design on the web using the eArray tool, which will allow the customers to not only do their own probe design but then dump the [design] directly onto an array and create the array basically from scratch," Harrison said.
4.5 will feature Agilent's probe design algorithm and customers will be able to upload their own transcript databases into the eArray tool for use in designing arrays, Harrison said.
"We are using those stepwise releases as a chance to interact with our customers."
He said that the new capabilities would build on its current 4.0 version, which the company claims can enable customers to build arrays in any of Agilent's application areas, including gene expression arrays, arrays for chromatin immuniprecipitation (ChIP)-on-chip experiments, as well as chips for array comparative genomic hybridization.
Prior to version 4.0, Agilent had launched version 3.5, which enabled more than one party to collaborate on an array and introduced the custom array CGH capabilities, in August 2005. Version 3.0 of eArray was made available in April 2005 (see BAN 8/3/2005, BAN 4/27/2005).
Agilent is releasing new versions of eArray in "functionality stages, starting with the most basic functionality and working up to a more advanced functionality," Harrison said. "Also we are using those stepwise releases as a chance to interact with our customers."
To promote the availability of the new tools, Harrison said that Agilent is taking eArray out on an unpublicized roadshow to "premier core labs" in key regional markets and putting on seminars.
Most online support is integrated into the software, with contextual help embedded in eArray as customers work their way through the process, Harrison added. He also said that version 4.5 will not be the final version of the free tool, and that Agilent hopes to combine some of its other software capabilities with eArray in the future, such as the various versions of GeneSpring it has developed since it acquired Silicon Genetics in 2004 (see BAN 10/12/2005, BAN 9/1/2004).
"The long-term vision is that there will be some level of seamless integration of some of the Agilent family of data-analysis tools so that theoretically you could go into GeneSpring and you could create a design, perform an experiment, see a set list of genes, and input them back into eArray," Harrison said. "That hasn't been done yet, but it has been talked about and it is a very likely direction where we will drive eArray."
Agilent is not the only microarray company that offers free, online custom design. GE Healthcare recently launched iCenter, a free tool that provides users with access to its CodeLink bioarray content and corresponding genomic information, including probe sequences, array content maps, and gene annotations.
Gretchen Kiser, a CodeLink senior scientist, told BioArray News in March that iCenter was officially launched during the fourth quarter of 2005, and that online customer support was added in the first quarter of this year (see BAN 3/28/2006).
Subscription Program to be Offered in Europe
After eArray, another channel Agilent has been using to develop its customer base has been its microarray subscription program. According to Jeffrey McMillan, a hardware product manager at the company, Agilent launched the program earlier this year and will begin offering it through its sales offices in Europe.
The subscription program enables first-time Agilent users to become acquainted with the company's technology by signing up for two separate packages: They can choose to pay for 25 slides a month at a rate of $650 per slide for a total of $16,250 per month, or they can opt for 50 slides a month for $600 per slide, a $30,000 monthly fee. All of Agilent's arrays are offered through the program, and all future arrays will be added as they become available, McMillan told BioArray News last week.
He also said that customers who choose the company's array comparative genomic hybridization slides, which come two arrays to the slide, still only have to pay for one slide, despite the increase in content. Customers also receive the hardware associated with processing the arrays and other tools with no upfront investment, McMillan said. Also included in the services are three years on-site repair coverage, a $1,000 credit towards a training class with Agilent, and free software upgrades, he added.
According to McMillan, Agilent is using the subscription platform as a vehicle to reach new customers in the research and clinical arenas. "We decided to launch this program to see if we could access some of the customers that didn't have a lot of upfront capital to invest in capital equipment," he said.
"So if somebody wanted to change platforms from a competitor and they were already tooled up with that competitor, we could offer them this program and they could forego the upfront capital investment," he continued.
"Another market would be something like the array CGH market, where we definitely see possibilities going in the area of the clinic and [clinicians] are more used to a price-for-test model than an upfront investment," McMillan said.
Agilent has hinted that array CGH is moving towards the clinical market before. In April, Michael Barrett, a scientist in Agilent Laboratories' Molecular Research Lab, said that, though the company has no direct interest in diagnostics, it has determined that its array CGH product is indeed suitable for diagnostic assays, particularly in leukemia (see BAN 4/4/2006).
However, Agilent spokesperson Stuart Matlow last week stressed that the company's CGH arrays are "still purely in the realm of research."
"There's no active clinical marketing going on right now," Matlow said.
-- Justin Petrone ([email protected])