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Amersham, Building New Facility for CodeLink, Trains Sales Staff, Rolls Out Mouse Microarray

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Amersham Biosciences is starting to build momentum for the CodeLink microarray business that it acquired from Motorola for $20 million four months ago.

The company is adding a mouse microarray, its first significant CodeLink product introduction under the Amersham brand, while it builds a new manufacturing facility to house microarray production in Sanders, Ariz., a few miles away from the Motorola facilities it now occupies in nearby Tempe, Ariz.

The mouse microarray, called CodeLink UniSet Mouse I, joins 10K human and rat chips and is based on GenBank RefSeq and UniGene data. Each chip contains probes for an independent assay of all 10,000 genes in the set — one specific prescreened probe per gene, functionally validated, the company said. It is available from the company’s microarray website www.codelinkbioarrays.com.

Amersham, a UK-based life sciences giant, is being deliberate with a business that needs to make $20 million a year to break even. Still, with nearly $1 billion in annual sales, 50,000 customers, and 4,400 employees, Amersham can support a longer incubation period for its acquisition than a smaller company could.

Before the purchase of CodeLink, Amersham Bioscience had already established a presence in microarrays with CyDye products, Lucidea spotters, hybridization stations, software, and a QC reagent kit. The company also distributes Axon GenePix scanners, ArrayVision imaging software, and Spotfire’s DecisionSite platform.

The company plans to sell CodeLink arrays under the umbrella of its Discovery Systems group, which earns 75 percent of its revenues from reagents and consumables, selling heavily into the academic market.

Product brochures are literally in the rough-draft pencil stages and a new manufacturing facility is being created for the clean-room assembly lines currently housed under Motorola’s roof. There, even 17-year Amersham veterans like Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Mindy Lee, the company’s marketing director for genomics, can’t enter the fab facility without an escort. The transition to new facilities should be 80 percent complete in three months, Lee told BioArray News.

The company is training its sales team, recently flying two dozen sales representatives from around the world to its Arizona facilities for a week of training and team-building. In addition to this global sales staff, Amersham has 80 employees in Arizona and another 200 in Sunnyvale, Calif.

CodeLink, said Lee, will be the technology platform for gene expression and SNP analysis and, perhaps, protein analysis.

The CodeLink product line currently includes reagent kits for labeling, software and prearrayed slides. The company is exploring scanners to add to its suite of products. CodeLink slides, depending on content, should sell for $580 each.

“We want to have the lowest costs in the industry,” said Lee.

The CodeLink product includes a cover slip, a snap-on/snap-off plastic hood that functions as a hybridization chamber for its standard 2x3 prespotted microarray slides. The company also offers parallel processing kits that allow 12 slides to be processed simultaneously.

The CodeLink process uses piezioelectriconics to deposit DNA onto a 3-dimensional substrate with a single 30-mer probe per gene. “Every bit of the oligo participates,” said Lee.

The company did its first Amersham Codelink advertisement last week, with an ad in a Nature publication. The company is selling products in North America and will ramp up in Europe in the first quarter while in Asia, it transitions from repping Affymetrix products for six years, to now, selling its own, starting on Jan. 1. Overall, the company is looking for customers new to prearrayed microarrays.

“We aren’t going after Affymetrix’s market share,” said Lee. “We want to compete on the product and the quality and we think there is room for CodeLink to capture the growth in the market.”

Lee said the company thinks its customers might be self-spotting their own chips and want to use pre-arrayed slides,. she said.

The company is considering protein arrays, but Lee said, that is not something to expect in 2003. “We have a group in the United Kingdom looking at them: We are doing feasibility studies and have some preliminary data.”

Meanwhile, Amersham is preparing a second human chip with 10,000 features, while custom products are also under consideration, said Lee.

“You can come into a market and make a product better than others have,” she said.said Lee. “It’s early enough in the life cycle of this product to do that.”

In a recent training session, the company brought it in its worldwide CodeLink sales team, assembling sales representatives from Europe as well as South Africa, Israel, Australia, Hong Kong and Brazil.

— MOK

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