Qiagen has signed on Aventis Pharma as its first technology access partner for its new ZeptoGene Workstation microarray platform.
Under the agreement, Aventis will acquire limited access to the platform, which Qiagen is developing in a multi-year revenue sharing collaboration with Swiss company Zeptosens, a spinoff of Novartis.
The platform employs Zeptosens'' Planar Wave Guide technology, a method for selectively detecting molecules bound to the surface of the microarray without the use of PCR, as well as Qiagen''s nucleic acid separation, purification, and handling technologies.
The platform eliminates problems with background noise, reproducibility, and sensitivity inherent in current microarray technology, said Martin Potgeter, Qiagen''s strategic marketing manager for array systems.
"If signal is stars in the sky, and there are clouds in front of the stars, we just push the clouds away," said Potgeter.
Qiagen and Zeptosens attempt to work this microarray magic by coating the microarray with an ultrathin film of highly refractive material called a planar waveguide (PWG), and sending a beam of parallel light across this layer. While conventional microarray detection involves illuminating the probes from below or aboveóa method that also illuminates any dust or other particles that exist between the probe and the top of the arrayóthis new method only illuminates the probe, eliminating any background signal.
The system uses special ZeptoChips that are coated with PWGs, and can be spotted with either cDNAs or oligonucleotides. The hybridization is done in liquid, so it also is an ideal environment for proteins, Potgeter said. Qiagen only has rights to DNA hybridization under the agreement with Zeptosens, but Zeptosens is producing a PWG protein chip platform on its own.
The platform is also designed to detect amounts of RNA less than one microgram, eliminating the need for an amplification step and allowing for experiments on limited samples, such as cancer tissue from a biopsy. Qiagen and Zeptosens are currently designing an automated version of the platform that will have fluidics on its chips and automate sample preparation steps, eliminating the human variation inherent in manual sample preparation and increasing the reproducibility of the chips.
Given Qiagen''s oligonucleotide expertise, the initial chips for the ZeptoGene platform will include about 1,000 oligo probes per array. Qiagen will initially produce custom chips for its customers, and later plans to make prefabricated chips.
Due to US patent concerns with Affymetrix, Qiagen plans to focus its marketing efforts primarily on European pharma and biotech customers, Potgeter said.