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CombiMatrix Molecular Diagnostics, Illumina and Burnham Institute, South Korea, and GeneGo

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In Conference Call, CMD Heads Flesh Out Company's Strategy

The incoming CEO and chief operating officer of CombiMatrix Molecular Diagnostics — a new subsidiary of CombiMatrix that plans to use Combi's technology in a CLIA-approved lab for manufacturing homebrew microarrays — fleshed out the company's strategy in a conference call with investors last week.

Incoming CEO Matthew Watson said that CMD plans to get government approval in accordance with the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act and then market its specialized services to larger molecular diagnostic companies.

"Our goal is to obtain our CLIA certification as a laboratory and then to offer these microarray testing services to the larger national laboratories, such as LabCorp, Quest, those types of laboratories," Watson said during the conference call.

According to COO David Baunoch, CombiMatrix hopes to initially focus on diagnosing tumors of unkown origin, which represent almost 15 percent of all cancer in the United States, and are collectively the eighth-most commonly diagnosed cancer, according to Baunoch. In 2003, the United States experienced 1.3 million new cancer diagnoses, a number that is expected to rise as baby boomers age, said Watson.

The chosen disease state will put CombiMatrix in direct competition with Agendia, a Dutch company now selling an in vitro diagnostic test for diagnosing tumor of unknown origin, CUP Print (see Ban 2/9/2005).

According to Amit Kumar, CombiMatrix's CEO and chairman of CMD's board of directors, after the company receives CLIA approval it will be free to market a tumor-of-unknown origin diagnostic test to larger research labs. Kumar said during the call that other identification applications ripe for development involve adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, leukemia lymphoma diagnosis, and melanoma diagnosis.


Illumina, Burnham Institute Will Soon Publish BeadChip Study of Embryonic Stem Cells

Researchers from Illumina and the Burnham Institute will publish the results of a joint collaboration that used Illumina's BeadChips to study the fundamental biology of human embryonic stem cells as soon as next month, an Illumina official told BioArray News at the Northwest Gene Expression Conference, held in Seattle last week.

Tim McDaniel, staff science manager at the San Diego-based genotyping instrument company, said representatives from the Burnham Institute and Illumina would meet next week to iron out the kinks in their manuscript.

According to McDaniel, the Burnham Institute used Illumina's new whole-genome Sentrix BeadChips to explore the "genomic plasticity and capacity for differentiation" of human embryonic stem cells.

"We do have a manuscript in draft form, but we haven't decided which publication to submit to," he said.

McDaniel told audience members at the conference that researchers have been profiling the embryonic stem cells, and have discovered that they express over 18,000 genes.

Researchers have also discovered that many genes characteristic of differentiated cell types are expressed at significant levels. He also said that the arrays classified undifferentiated cells from differentiated stem cell lines, regardless of the origin of the samples. The study is being led by Jean Loring, an investigator at the Burnham Institute.

Illumina launched its whole-genome BeadChips last March.


South Koreans Set Aside $100M for Genome Research Project

A total of 100 billion won ($100 million) will be invested over the next five years into a South Korean genome research project that aims to find cures for 10 major diseases, including cancer, the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare said last week.

According to an article in The Korea Times, the Korean National Genome Research Institute and the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention initiated a project in 2000 to establish a SNP database related to Koreans and some 1,000 diseases. $84 billion has already been spent on the project since 2000.

With the data that has been compiled so far and the additional investment, the Korean government plans to develop remedies tailored to individual patients, Korean health officials said.


GeneGo Gets SBIR Grant To Reanalyze Expression Databases

GeneGo, a Michigan-based systems biology informatics provider, has received a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to use its computational platforms for toxicogenomic research, the company said last week.

According to GeneGo, the first phase of the research calls for GeneGo to use its systems biology platform MetaCore to analyze existing publicly available gene expression data to analyze gene networks with the ultimate goal of identifying diagnostic biomarkers for host response to drugs or chemicals.

Tatiana Nikolskaya, chief scientific officer and president of GeneGo said in a statement that the company planned to "re-examine [existing rat and mouse] microarray data from different platforms and [to] identify specific modules and 'signature networks' [that are] characteristic for toxic effects and conserved cross-platform." She added that earlier analyses of the data had missed novel biomarkers due to the limited capabilities of the analysis tools.

The amount of the SBIR grant was not disclosed.

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