BlueGnome, a Cambridge, UK-based firm that sells products for array comparative genomic hybridization, said last week that a major German clinical lab has validated the second version of its flagship CytoChip for the detection of constitutional genetic disorders.
Now the firm plans to build on the validation by starting a US marketing tour to familiarize the American market with its products. The company is hoping that the strength of its platform and flexible design capabilities will push it ahead of US-based rivals like PerkinElmer-owned Spectral Genomics and service-based firms like Signature Genomic Laboratories and CombiMatrix Molecular Diagnostics, according to a company official.
Graham Snudden, BlueGnome’s co-founder and vice president of engineering, told BioArray News this week that longtime German customer Medizinisch Genetisches Zentrum recently validated the firm’s CytoChip 2.0, which was launched in July.
BlueGnome’s new chip offers twice as much coverage for genetic diseases like mosaicism and Cri du Chat than the original CytoChip did, according to the firm. Customer labs typically use the research-use-only chip to diagnose patients that lack a positive diagnosis, then follow up with methods like fluorescent in situ hybridization before reporting the results back to the clinician.
Snudden said that the significance of MGZ’s validation is to “confirm that the new protocols — experimental and data analysis — deliver results that are consistent with their clinical findings and which are confirmed by a secondary technique such as FISH,” he said. “MGZ [was] the first to complete this and to offer version 2 of the CytoChip as a routine service,” he added.
The significance of MGZ’s results goes beyond validating BlueGnome’s new protocols, though. According to Snudden, the company is now preparing a week-long tour of select cytogenetics labs in the US to introduce CytoChip version 2.0. The tour will be the first of its kind for BlueGnome, which has so far focused its marketing efforts closer to home in Europe as well as Australia and Canada.
Snudden said that the firm started out in the UK, but quickly branched out into mainland Europe, Scandinavia, and Australia. Now BlueGnome hopes to expand into the US market.
“It is very much the same as we have done it Europe. We have sat down and called every cyto lab we could in the US and after getting interest we will run a crazy road show, ten labs in five days, and basically we are building relationships,” said Snudden.
According to Snudden, a number of laboratories across the United States are already evaluating, and in some cases purchasing, the CytoChips. “We are committed to visiting every laboratory in person to complete training and, more importantly, to develop a better understanding of their clinical requirements and the nature of the organization that we need to develop in the US in order to provide the high levels of service that have differentiated [us] so effectively in Europe,” he said.
“To this end, myself and our CEO [Nick Haan] are going to be in the US the [last week of September] visiting five cities in five days, each, said Snudden. “We, or our team members, will follow this up with further visits as required.”
While BlueGnome’s US focus is new, its sales and marketing outreach will rely on the same techniques that allowed it to build its European customer base, namely concentrated attention to each customer, word of mouth, and the development of local user groups that will help guide future alterations to the product.
“Our sales and marketing is very straight forward,” said Snudden. “Testing labs are very easy to find. They are very well connected to each other. Word of mouth is strong and essentially we have done no marketing; we have been able to just get clients like that,” he said.
According to Snudden, BlueGnome has established “very strong” user groups in Germany and the UK that get together and work through issues related to the platform. “It is all direct, which is very doable for the focused market,” he said. “What that means is that there is very small distance between us and the customer,” said Snudden. “We can go to a customer in Denmark, they say they want it on the chip, and we can go back to Cambridge and put it on it and ship it out to them,” he added.
As BlueGnome branches out into the US market, Snudden said the company shouldn’t have trouble providing support from its Cambridge, UK, headquarters. He said the firm is already experienced in providing long-range technical support to Australian and Canadian customers and that it believes the user group model will work as well in the US as it has in places like Germany, where Snudden said the company has “done well” in attracting customers.
“We believe that we are streets ahead of anything that is available in the US right now, and hope to be a market leader there soon.”
The company also plans to open a US office at some point, although Snudden stressed that those kinds of decisions will be made in time. “I have no doubt that we will open an office in the US at some point in the future,” said Snudden. “First, however, we need to decide where and what we need to put in place to deliver a full service. The main reason why Nick Haan and I are undertaking the initial trips is to answer these more strategic questions.”
As BlueGnome begins its entry into the US CGH market it is up against some formidable players. The most obvious is Spectral Genomics, acquired by PerkinElmer last year, which has already established a presence as a provider of catalog bacterial artificial chromosome-based arrays for constitutional genetic disorder identification.
Another rival would be Empire Genomics, which also sells CGH chips that detect constitutional abnormalities, among other conditions. Empire, based in Buffalo, NY, inked a licensing agreement with Affymetrix last week (see Briefs, this issue).
Empire CEO Anthony Johnson wrote BioArray News in an e-mail this week that “Empire Genomics does not view the US market as a generic array market” and that Empire has focused on developing a research-use-only chip, the ACCU RA human tiling array, which Empire claims offers the “highest density Human BAC CGH” coverage in the market.
In regards to BlueGnome’s entry, Johnson wrote that in “terms of challenges for competitors, I think they are the same in every region: quality, innovation, customer service, and costs.”
While BlueGnome has been branching out in Europe, service-oriented companies other than Spectral and Empire have been focused on building a customer base in the American market.. Though BlueGnome is a product company, the US CGH market is dominated by testing services like those offered by Signature Genomic Labs in Spokane, Wash., or Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Like most of their competition, BlueGnome’s chips are BAC-based compared with oligonucleotide arrays that Baylor College of Medicine offers in its testing service. Agilent Technologies, Oxford Gene Technology, and others also sell oligo-based CGH chips for research use only.
“We are not wedded to the BAC platform, but it is what serves the patient group most,” Snudden said of CytoChip. “If you look at what is being diagnosed today in a clinical environment, it is mental retardation and unexplained dysmorphia,” he said. “Those patients will traditionally be referred to a cytogenetics lab, and cytogeneticists come from a background of FISH, karyotyping, and BAC-based testing. For them, BAC is a very comfortable and straightforward platform,” he added.
According to Snudden, while BlueGnome lacks the sales and marketing resources available to rival firms like Spectral Genomics, which has PerkinElmer’s S&M muscle behind it, its ability to alter its arrays depending on client need will give it the edge needed to surpass its competitors.
“We believe that we are streets ahead of anything that is available in the US right now