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As Asia Beckons, Exiqon, CMBX Raise Stakes in MiRNA Array Space With New Distribution Pacts


Danish microRNA array vendor Exiqon last week said it has selected four new distributors to expand its products into the Asia-Pacific market.

The company appointed Clover Technology Group and KangChen Bio-tech to cover China, B-Bridge International for Japan, and ScienceWerke to represent the firm in Singapore. Exiqon said it plans to expand its distribution network further within other Asian countries and Europe in the near future.

Meanwhile, CombiMatrix announced separately that it has entered into a manufacturing and distribution agreement with Korean biotechnology firm Macrogen, which will use CombiMatrix's CustomArray Synthesizers to develop and sell CustomArrays into Korea, and to offer other services based on the arrays.

Mike Tognotti, CMBX's vice president of sales and marketing, said this week that Macrogen will now be able to sell its catalog of miRNA chips, along with all its other arrays, to customers in South Korea and Japan.

Both sets of distribution pacts underscore the growing global market for miRNA arrays, with a new front developing in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the distribution companies themselves, demand already exists for the chips, which were not available as catalog products one year ago.

"Especially in Asia, sales procedures can be quite different to Europe and US, and at this point we find distributors to be the optimal solution."

"Generally, there is demand for miRNA-related products in Singapore," Jason Ng, director of sales and marketing at ScienceWerke, told BioArray News this week. "Our requests and customers are mainly from research and academic Institutions at this moment."

"Most researchers now understand and acknowledge that microRNAs hold the answer to many important elements of cell biology and human health. This is particularly important for researchers working to develop new cures for cancer and viral diseases," Ng said.

"The demand is not only confined to miRNA arrays. There is also increasing interest and demand for miRNA in situ [detection probes] and northern detection [probes], knock-down [probes] and real-time PCR [kits]," Ng added.

Yingjiang Miao, a spokesperson for Beijing-based Clover Technology Group, said that "there is a demand for miRNA arrays in China, but the quantity is limited."

"All these needs are coming from research institutes [at] this stage in China," Miao told BioArray News this week.

CMBX's Korean partner Macrogen could not be reached for comment. The Seoul-based array company — which offers its own arrays as well as arrays from Applied Biosystems and Illumina for expression analysis and genotyping — has worked with Tokyo University and the Japan Bio-Oriented Research Advancement Institution, as well as others, according to its website.

Tognotti said that he expected the miRNA arrays to perform well in Korea as they are one of the company's "hottest selling products." CombiMatrix launched its miRNA array line in January (see BAN 1/10/2006).

According to a statement from CMBX, the deal with Macrogen underscores its strategy of establishing manufacturing and distribution relationships with regional companies to enable them to manufacture arrays on site for their local markets.

Direct vs. Distributors

When CMBX and Exiqon's arrays become available in the Asian markets, they will be pushing up against rivals with direct international sales channels, like Invitrogen, which sells its NCode multi-species miRNA array, and ABI, which sells its mirVana arrays for miRNA research.

Both firms are exponentially larger in terms of personnel than CMBX and Invitrogen and have greater resources for marketing and distributing their tools.

ABI has direct sales and support offices in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou in China, as well as sales offices in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. Invitrogen, meantime, has offices in Japan, China, Singapore, and Taiwan. It can also count on a distributor in Korea.

ABI is also adding muscle to its Asian operation. Timothy Orpin, ABI's vice president of the Asia-Pacific market, told BioArray News in January that the company's headcount in the region would rise by 30 percent this year. The company currently has 250 employees working in Asia, of which around 70 are devoted to selling its array products (see BAN 1/31/2006).

Numbers like that present a challenge for smaller firms, like Exiqon and CMBX, to compete against.

However, Søren Echwald, business development director at Copenhagen-based Exiqon, said that the company's strategy of using distributors to sell in Asia rather than assembling its own sales force will enable the company to more fluidly adjust its supply to match evolving demand.

"Since customer needs change in certain geographical markets, we will utilize distributors ... to meet customer expectations for price, delivery, and service," Echwald told BioArray News this week.

"Especially in Asia, sales procedures can be quite different to Europe and US, and at this point we find distributors to be the optimal solution. We are looking at expanding this network," he said.

Exiqon recently opened a subsidiary in Boston to directly serve the US market, but Echwald said that it was likely that the company in the future will engange distributors to serve the European market outside of Denmark.

CombiMatrix has also been building its Asian distribution network in recent months. In May, the company tapped Prisma Biotech to promote and sell its products in Taiwan and China (see BAN 5/2/2006). CMBX transferred ownership of its wholly owned Japanese subsidiary CombiMatrix KK to Australian biotech InBio to focus on selling direct in the US in January (see BAN 1/31/2006).

Last week, CMBX's Tognotti said that the company will add VWR International as a distributor soon, making the company's arrays available worldwide.

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