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Agilent Working With ExonHit On Splice-Variant Arrays; Life Science Q4 Revenues Up

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Agilent is collaborating with ExonHit to develop a system that will enable researchers to monitor the expression of splice variants. The collaboration will combine the French firm’s expertise in alternative splicing with Agilent’s microarray platform.

Wilson Woo, director of strategic programs for Agilent’s bioresearch solutions group, told BioArray News, “We had a conversation some time ago about exploring mutual interest [in this area]. While they have the know-how and technology in splice variants, they need a microarray platform to put the content on. They’ve done some in-house spotting, but they have been looking for a collaborator.”

The first area of collaboration for the firms is a splicing array for G-protein coupled receptors. An initial array was designed by ExonHit and produced by Agilent and the firms have plans to work with early test sites on generating additional experimental results.

“There are various tests we’ve done with them to find out the appropriate content, and length of the probe, for example,” Woo said. “The next phase is to take this particular chip out to some external testers to verify if they can take advantage of this content and the way we analyze the data.”

ExonHit will utilize its Differential Analysis of Transcripts with Alternative Splicing technology to develop content for the arrays. The collaboration does not involve the development of any new instruments and the arrays will run on Agilent’s custom microarray platform.

“The main thing is to take advantage of our maskless shoeprint technology,” Woo said. “The reason is [that] when you’re doing splice variants, it’s not standard. A lot of things might change. So, we need to look at how to optimize the platform. For example, probe length is one thing we explored. We can use software to change the probe length and change the exact probe we want easily at a very low cost. That’s a major advantage [ExonHit] wants to exploit. It’s very ideal for an area like splice variants.”

According to Woo, the GPCR array is a relatively small-content array and is being used as a testing ground for the partners to see how well ExonHit’s content works with Agilent’s platform.

“From this point on, we can move on to other things,” Woo said. “We’re still trying to figure out from the market what people want.”

He said that the company had received some feedback suggesting arrays that might be of interest to researchers — specifically, splice-variant arrays for known druggable targets, such as ion channels or tyrosine kinases.

He added, “People are talking about an all-transcriptome array. However, there’s really a definition issue here. What is an all-transcriptome array? You find various definitions out there, and I think it is really unclear.”

Woo also expects researchers to request custom arrays, asking ExonHit for all known splice variants of a particular set of genes.

At this point, the collaboration is focused strictly on research, and the company does not have a timeframe for hitting the market, Woo noted. “We have not done any marketing things yet,” he said. “We really want to make sure the science is right … then we’ll go to the market.”

Agilent believes the collaboration might provide it with a competitive advantage as well. “If we can provide [researchers] with proven methods and protocols, or even new array products, that enable them to conduct research that gives them a more complete picture of genomics-level behavior, that will be an advantage to them,” an Agilent spokesperson told BioArray News. “From a competitive standpoint, we believe that anything we do that gives our customers a research advantage also becomes a competitive advantage.”

Agilent LSCA Unit Revenues Rise 10 Percent

Meanwhile, Agilent last week reported that its life sciences and chemical analysis unit, which sells the company’s genomics and proteomics product lines, had revenue growth of 10 percent for its fourth quarter ending Oct. 31.

“LSCA shows few signs of slowing from its recent double-digit growth trend,” the company said in a statement. Revenue for the life-sciences segment grew 11 percent, while chemical analysis had 9-percent growth year over year.

The LSCA unit had $366 million in orders for the quarter, up 10 percent over $333 million for the comparable period a year ago. The unit’s revenues were $352 million, up 10 percent over $321 for the year-ago quarter.

The unit rang up profits of $58 million, compared to $53 million for the fourth quarter of 2003.

Overall, Agilent orders were down 8 percent for the quarter compared to last year’s fourth quarter, due primarily to a sharp downturn in the semiconductor market. The firm’s revenues were $1.8 billion, up from $1.7 billion in the same period last year, while its net income from operations was $173 million for the quarter, up 42 percent over the $71 million for the year-ago quarter.

Agilent reported cash and cash equivalents of $2.3 billion on hand as of the end of its 2004 fiscal year.

— EW

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