BARCELONA, Spain — Arrayjet last week launched its highest-throughput microarray printer to date in order to take advantage of what it sees as an expansion in the number of applications being performed on arrays, as well as demand for its piezoelectric inkjet technology.
The debut of the Ultra-Marathon, which is capable of printing up to a thousand slides in one run, comes just a week after the Dalkeith, UK-based company released its Array Multiplier software to allow users to print multi-pad or mini-arrays, and one year after Arrayjet debuted the Sprint, its benchtop system (see BAN 5/22/2007).
The new product launch also coincides with a season of structural expansion at Arrayjet, which plans to increase its headcount, move into larger facilities, and ink more distribution deals before the year is out.
To date, Arrayjet has launched four arrayers, including the Ultra-Marathon. The first, the Marathon, prints up to 100 slides from six 96-well or 384-well microtiter plates. The second system, the Super-Marathon includes a microplate stacker and automated lid lifter to enable the automated printing of microarrays from up to 48 microtiter plates. Both systems debuted in 2005.
The idea behind the launch of the Sprint — which enables the automated printing of up to 20 arrays — was to give the market a taste of Arrayjet’s technology at a lower price. The Marathon and Super-Marathon typically sell for £100,000 ($194,760), while the Sprint is priced at around £50,000.
Whereas the Sprint was designed to appeal to users who perhaps want to test Arrayjet’s technology before upgrading to a higher-throughput system, the Ultra-Marathon, by contrast, is for those who have tried the technology and want more. According to Duncan Hall, commercial director at Arrayjet, the Ultra-Marathon is not only geared towards labs that are spotting their own arrays, but for the industrial manufacture of microarrays.
“There are a number of companies out there that want to produce microarrays as their product,” Hall told BioArray News during Select Biosciences’ Advances in Microarray Technology meeting, held here last week. “There are also a number of companies who want to make themselves protein array [manufacturers. But] there isn’t a commercial product you can buy that can produce arrays on that order of magnitude.
“For all the spotter manufacturers, protein arrays have been a great shot in the arm.”
“Generally speaking, those that are doing it have either gone ahead so far and bought a commercial product that is of lower throughput and managed, or they have spent a lot of money and got a custom-made solution that could cost them a couple million dollars,” Hall explained. “What we are saying is that we have a product, which is robust and supported by Arrayjet which can be had for a great deal less than that and yet can still fulfill their needs.”
Hall declined to discuss pricing for the system, but said that the company’s strategy of starting customers with the lower-throughput Sprint system and upgrading them to the Ultra-Marathon was beginning to pay off.
He said the Arrayjet has “three or four” undisclosed companies in the “diagnostics space right now that will have a Sprint installed, and will work up and optimize the Sprint, and then end up with the Ultra-Marathon.”
He also said that an increase in the number of scientists performing protein array-based studies has increased to the benefit not only of Arrayjet, but of all spotting companies.
“We have seen an increased interest in the number of companies and institutes who want to print protein arrays that approached us for this,” Hall said. “For all the spotter manufacturers, protein arrays have been a great shot in the arm. There has been a renaissance of spotting because people want to do non-DNA applications and there is not an Affymetrix in the protein space.”
The growth of the protein array space has also buoyed other new arrayer companies. Billerica, Mass.-based Aushon Biosystems, for example, introduced its 2470 system in 2006 (see BAN 12/12/2006).
John Austin, the company’s president, told BioArray News here last week that Aushon continues to see strong demand for its instrument, particularly from protein array users.
Shapes of Things
To meet the needs of the market, Arrayjet is now hiring production specialists so that it can produce more machines and printheads. Hall declined to discuss how many people Arrayjet currently employs or how many new staffers the company seeks to add to the payroll.
The company is also hiring an applications scientist who will join an applications group led by Senior Scientist Iain McWilliam, who joined the company last year from Dundee University.
“There is a real need for an applications group,” said Hall. “It’s not about selling a box anymore; it hasn’t been for years. It’s about what the box can do. And so we have to show the applications to our customers.”
Meantime, Arrayjet, which Hall said needs more lab and production space, plans to move from its current headquarters in Dalkeith to a 3,000-square-foot facility at the Midlothian Innovation Center in nearby Roslin, south of Edinburgh. Hall said the firm will complete the move in October.
Lastly, the company is in the process of finding a distribution partner to cover the Asia-Pacific market. Hall said Arrayjet already has placed one of its systems in Melbourne, Australia, and will soon have one installed in Malaysia.
“The next phase is to secure route to market in Asia-Pacific, which is what I am working on,” he said. “We have already had some interesting discussions, so it is looking good for us.”