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Agilent Licenses Array CGH IP from Abbott In Effort to Stave Off Future Legal Challenges

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Agilent Technologies last week announced that Abbott Molecular has granted it a license to manufacture, market, and sell oligonucleotide microarrays using a two-or-more color technology for gene expression and comparative genomic hybridization applications.
 
The worldwide, non-exclusive license covers the use of microarrays for research, commercial labs, and in vitro diagnostic applications. Financial details were not disclosed.
 
Agilent has been selling its own line of chips for comparative genomic hybridization since early 2005, and has been moving closer to the diagnostic space in recent months. Moreover, the firm recently upgraded the density of its line of CGH chips, raising the content per array to 244,000 features from 44,000 features.
 
In March the firm was awarded US Patent No. 7,011,949, “Methods and compositions for producing labeled probe nucleic acids for use in array-based comparative genomic hybridization applications,” which explicitly protects its CGH technology.
 
Still, according to a company official, Agilent decided to license the IP to shield against potential infringement suits from Abbott, which manufactures and sells its own line of array CGH chips. Abbott is also planning to launch a new system called the GeneTrait Microarray System Dx for clinical usage next year (see BAN 5/2/2006).
 
Condie Carmack, product manager of microarrays at Agilent, told BioArray News last week that the Abbott deal gives Agilent “the freedom to operation in this area without encumbrance” — with “encumbrance” referring to “patent infringement, not market forces.”
 
Agilent does not anticipate that it will need to license further IP to guard against infringement suits, Carmack added. “This is the only IP we know of in this area and should be a one-off,” he said.

It is unclear where Agilent’s current IP portfolio may be vulnerable or what specific benefits the company will see from the agreement. Agilent declined to discuss what patents were covered in the licensing deal.
 
Abbott’s CGH arrays use bacterial artificial chromosomes rather than oligos, but Carmack said that Agilent is not interested in obtaining or using BACs for its arrays.
“The right to make BAC arrays is not discussed in this sublicensing agreement. We believe that the oligo-based approach has distinct advantages over BACs,” Carmack said.
 
“Oligos permit much higher resolution and you don’t have to maintain clone libraries. Oligos allow tremendous flexibility in synthesis,” he said.
 
Diagnostics
 
One thing the agreement does make clear is that Agilent is still toying with entering the diagnostics space. For the past six months the company has been coy about its intentions towards the clinic.
 

“This is the only IP we know of in this area and should be a one-off.”

In April, Michael Barrett, a scientist in Agilent Laboratories' Molecular Research Lab, told BioArray News that Agilent thinks leukemia may be the gateway to clinical applicability for its array CGH product. "Existing DNA-based tests such as [fluorescent in situ hybridization] and cytogenetic assays are available on the market, and array CGH has the potential to do these assays at a much higher definition," Barrett said at the time (see BAN 4/4/2006).
 
"Leukemias are an attractive model for the application of array CGH [because] they are cancers of blood cells, frequently present in the clinic as homogeneous cell populations, and existing technologies are available to purify leukemic cells from a patient sample," he wrote in an e-mail to BioArray News.
 
At the same time, Barrett also stressed that Agilent is not interested in selling its array CGH product for diagnostics. However, he did not rule out its use in future clinical applications.
 
Now that Agilent has the right to sell arrays for diagnostic purposes, Carmack said that the company will continue to “explore opportunities in diagnostics, so we’re not ruling this out.”  
 
The sublicense agreement “encompasses both research and diagnostics,” he said.

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