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Agilent, NimbleGen Join ABI in Race to Make, Sell One-Chip Whole Genome Array

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The race is on to see who will be the first to release a whole human genome single microarray — and then sell it.

Agilent Technologies on Monday said it will release a single-chip, whole-human-genome microarray later this year.

Additionally, Madison, Wisc.-based Nimblegen, a microarray services provider using its proprietary platform, said that it already has some available for researchers.

The single-chip whole-human- genome microarray is regarded as a milestone by which to measure the progress of innovation by companies mass-producing this eight-year-old technology.

The announcements follow last week’s statement by Applera’s Applied Biosystems Group of Foster City, Calif., that it would release a single-chip whole human genome microarray, and instrumentation to support it by the end of the year (please see page 1).

ABI is a gene sequencing powerhouse and this announcement marked its entry into the microarray-based, gene-expression analysis market, joining established players like Affymetrix and Agilent as well as Amersham, which entered the fray last summer with the $20 million purchase of Motorola’s CodeLink microarray product line.

Agilent’s declaration means at least two industrial-scale manufacturers, and a smaller player, are racing to produce a tool that some see as the logical next-generation product for genomic researchers — one that has the potential to cut per-chip pricing, and open new experimental possibilities.

It’s a horse race, an Agilent Technologies executive told BioArray News.

“I believe the introduction of a whole human genome microarray will be a singular achievement and an important milestone for the genomics industry,” said Barney Saunders, vice president and general manager for Agilent’s BioResearch Solutions unit. “Because of that, I was a bit disappointed to see ABI issue its announcement so early, because, while we have kept it quiet, it has long been in Agilent’s plans to release a whole human, single microarray, and we are well on target to do that before the end of 2003. I hope that history will give credit for this achievement to the company that first releases a product, as opposed to a press release, regardless of which company that turns out to be.”

Agilent will spot onto one chip the genes it now sells as a two-array 60-mer oligonucleotide set — the Human 1A and 1B, released in June, and add additional content from Incyte and public databases, Saunders said. Agilent said it would not issue a press release to formalize its announcement, but would wait until the yet-to-be-named product is available for purchase.

Affymetrix, the microarray market leader, did not take the opportunity to bring its own product to the starting blocks as its reported its second quarter financials last week, but industry observers have no doubt that market pressures, if not pride, will soon persuade the company to make its own entry.

In its annual report, Affymetrix said that its research labs have created a prototype microarray “capable of handling 60 million fragments of DNA.” The company did not respond to a BioArray News request for information on when that might be launched into the market. The company currently offers a two-chip set whole human genome microarray.

Amersham also opted not to step up for this lap of the race, said Trevor Hawkins, vice president development, discovery systems, Amersham Biosciences

NimbleGen Systems

Meanwhile, NimbleGen Systems, a Madison, Wis., microarray manufacturer and analysis services provider, moved to the front of the pack by announcing the availability of a long-oligo (60-mer) offering.

The company said it has beta-testers for the product but would not comment on whether it has realized any revenue from sales.

NimbleGen is commercializing a patented maskless array synthesizer system for creating custom-designed in situ DNA chips using light projection technology. The company provides outsource ser-vices based on its platform.

The company’s human array is composed of almost 200,000 long oligo probes, and an additional 5,000 control probes, all at a length of 60 mers, with average coverage of 5 probes per gene.

This article was first published online on Monday, July 28, 2003.

— MOK

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