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Chung-Cheng Liu of Taiwan s ITRI on Future of Phalanx Microarrays

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At A Glance

Chung-Cheng Liu, Deputy General Director, Biomedical Engineering Center, and director, molecular and biomedical technology, ITRI, Taiwan (1999-Present)

Education: Postgrad — Biochemistry, biophysics, University of California, San Francisco

1980 — PhD, Biochemistry, Princeton University

1976 — MA, Biochemistry, Princeton

1972 — BS, Zoology, National Taiwan University

Experience: 1993-1999 — Group leader, molecular biology, Genencor International, Palo Alto, Calif.

1991-1993 — Research manager, Specialty Laboratories, San Diego

 

As director of molecular and biomedical technology for Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute, Chung-Cheng Liu is responsible for overseeing the development of the manufacturing techniques and the DNA analysis technology being commercialized by Phalanx Technology Group.

Phalanx was spun off from ITRI, a 6,000-employee government-sponsored technology development organization, with the hopes of mirroring in microarrays Taiwan’s success in semiconductor manufacturing. It has a $30 million war chest and some 16 microarray patents from ITRI, its controlling investor, and an ink-jet based manufacturing system, expected to produce 50,000 arrays a day, nearing production capability.

Phalanx is now one of the competitors in the unofficial race to manufacture at industrial scale, and sell, single microarrays containing probes for the entire human genome.

BioArray News recently spoke with Liu to learn more about Phalanx’s plans for this product, and others.

Your thoughts on a single-chip whole human array?

The definition of [the] whole human genome array is very fuzzy at this moment and used as a metaphor for increasing density of microarray[s]. The current number of genes in the human genome is estimated to be around 25,000. However, most genes give multiple forms of protein by ways of differential splicing and there will always be new versions of a gene that can be discovered, so that number is subject to change. In addition to the 30K chip Phalanx is making, I assume Affy has something in the oven as well. ABI’s proposal to combine the array with its Celera database (for design as well as for gene annotation reference) and package its array with its real time PCR, will no doubt help selling ABI’s RT-PCR products.

How are you designing the Phalanx arrays?

The design of the whole-human genome array can be done several ways. [The] Celera or Incyte database can be used as reference. We used the UniGene database as our starting material and we designed the probe with our own probe-design software. Currently, we have somewhere around 16,000 probes designed. Phalanx is still shooting for the 30,000-probe target but may make a 16,000-probe array as an interim product for commercialization as well as for beta testing.

What is the Phalanx market?

Currently, arrays are mostly used for research purposes.

We think the clinical use of microarrays represent[s] the great future for array products and the uses will increase as the quality and cost of the arrays continue to improve. Phalanx’s technology is definitely aiming for this future market.

We are planning to use 100,000 high-density arrays manufactured by Phalanx to monitor [the] gene expression pattern of blood cells as well as tissues from some disease states to compare with “normal” ones. We think this will be the biggest project of its kind in the world and is afforded by the availability of inexpensive and high-quality arrays from Phalanx. The concept of monitoring gene expression of blood cells is a novel one. Pat Brown’s lab published a preliminary study early this year.

What do you see in the future for microarrays?

The density of arrays will be important. But, personally, I don’t think arrays are an ideal tool for discovering new genes.

Arrays will be good tools for disease monitoring as well as for the diagnosis of complex diseases by pattern recognition. People contemplating this type of approach think anywhere beyond 9,000 probes will be sufficient because of the interactive nature of biological processes — surrogate markers as potential indicators for clinical-trial outcomes, especially long-term trials, will be very beneficial to patients as well as drug companies.

 

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