Seeking to close a gap in its technology portfolio, Agilent Technologies this week announced a partnership to pair its instrumentation capabilities with nanochip technology from Philadelphia-based BioNanomatrix to build a new genetic system for haplotyping, genotoxicity, and cytogenetics.
According to Eran Raber, director of new business creation and venture investment at Agilent Labs, the company approached BioNanomatrix because it believes that the firm’s chip technology, called the Nanoanalyzer, plus its single-molecule imaging capabilities, are the right match for some application areas of interest to Agilent but beyond the scope of its current technology platforms.
Raber’s team is charged with identifying and incubating future business opportunities, often with external partners.
The partnership with BioNanomatrix is “a good example of pairing their technology with what we have in our portfolio and can leverage,” Raber told BioArray News this week. “We think that their nanochannel chip is a unique technology in that it enables measuring long fractions of DNA and it enables single-molecule detection,” he said.
“What we would like to do is leverage our measurement science and fluidics expertise and develop a new platform to read this kind of chip, analyze the images from the chip, and, together with BioNanomatrix, develop new applications,” said Raber.
BioNanomatrix’s nanochannel arrays are based on microfluidics, which makes them akin to products developed by firms like Fluidigm or BioForce Nanosciences. And like these companies, BioNanomatrix is looking to play in many of the same markets as traditional array firms, such as cancer diagnostics.
Raber said that any system developed by Agilent and BioNanomatrix would not cannibalize applications served by Agilent’s array business — like miRNA and methylation profiling and array comparative genomic hybridization — but would instead target areas where Agilent has no platform currently available. Additionally, the proposed system would borrow more from Agilent’s lab-on-chip instrumentation than its array system.
“It is a bit remote from the array platform. It leverages expertise we developed with the Bioanalyzer more — the fluidics piece and the liquid-handling piece — but again it is going to be a new platform,” Raber said. “This cooperation is about being able to put everything together and having a multidisciplinary team that can take raw technology and integrate it.”
Raber stressed that the collaboration is in its initial phases and neither company has determined when the proposed system could be ready for commercialization or which company would sell it. But if a particular application looks promising, Agilent could then potentially ready the platform for the market.
“At this point, this is an R&D cooperation and there is no commercialization commitment,” he said. “But we anticipate that once we establish feasibility for the technology and the applications … and market perspective, it could move to be more specific around a particular application,” said Raber. “Once that happens, it could lead to a commercialization agreement.”
For BioNanomatrix, the partnership with Agilent Labs is the latest in a series of partnerships to develop instrumentation and applications for its Nanoanalyzer chips. According to CEO Mike Boyce-Jacino, pairing with Agilent gives the company access to an experienced R&D team as well as Agilent’s network of customers should the system be commercialized.
“Agilent is a strong player in the life sciences market so they have a good understanding of what technologies are needed for their instrumentation and we seem to be a very good match,” Boyce-Jacino told BioArray News this week.
“This cooperation is about being able to put everything together and having a multidisciplinary team that can take raw technology and integrate it.”
Boyce-Jacino said that some of the application areas the companies will target include haplotyping, genotoxicity, and cytogenetics.
“The ability to go to single-molecule imaging allows you to look at the intact high molecular weight of DNA,” he said. “When you can do that, things like haplotyping directly on DNA become possible, which is of tremendous interest to many labs,” he said.
Another area of interest is genotoxicity, or determining DNA damage as a result of radiation, carcinogens, or drugs. Radiation damage often causes DNA cleavage, which BioNanomatrix can view with its imaging capabilities in order to assess the degree of genotoxicity.
“The idea here is to look immediately at where the damage to the DNA is occurring,” said Boyce-Jacino. “If we can take a few cells and analyze the integrity of the genomic DNA, we can then determine the effect of that compound or radiation exposure on the DNA,” he said. “It would be small sample, rapid and quantitative data analysis, making it accessible to high-throughput and clinical applications,” he added.
In terms of cytogenetics, the application area of interest is array comparative genomic hybridization. Agilent already sells microarrays for CGH. It also manufactures arrays that are used in array-based genetic screening services offered by Baylor College of Medicine and Signature Genomic Laboratories. Boyce-Jacino said that the firm’s imaging technology could offer array-CGH users higher resolution and it wouldn’t compete directly with Agilent’s existing technology.
“At the high level, we see the technology as synergistic with those kinds of technologies,” he said. We can look at whatever is analyzed on a CGH array at a higher resolution, so it is a complementary technology,” he added.
“We are developing things that people wish they could do with arrays, and that allow them to take the information they are getting with current technologies a step further.”
In September, BioNanomatrix said that it was partnering with Complete Genomics, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup, to develop a platform aimed at sequencing a human genome in eight hours for less than $100 under an $8.8 million grant from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Boyce-Jacino said this week that the deal with Complete Genomics is entirely separate from the Agilent collaboration, although DNA sequencing is another potential application area for the genetic analysis system they are devising.
“These deals are totally separate,” he said. “The Complete Genomics project is a very early stage R&D project. Our focus with Agilent is applications development,” he said.
Agilent’s Raber said that the timeline for the BioNanomatrix collaboration will depend on how quickly certain application areas develop. “I think this technology is enabling a new type of analysis that people cannot do today,” he said. “Once we identify a particular application, that will dictate future timetables.”