With much fanfare, Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Medicina Genómica (INMEGEN) unveiled three new research units at its facilities in Mexico City last week. The new units were provided by Affymetrix, Applied Biosystems, and IBM, who will be partnering with the one-year-old institute on a genotyping project sponsored by the Mexican government.
Affy will supply INMEGEN with a gene expression unit, while ABI will provide genotyping and sequencing tools. IBM will supply INMEGEN with the necessary bioinformatics to analyze its experimental results.
"Using Affymetrix' GeneChip Human Mapping 500K array set, INMEGEN will study genetic variation among the Mestizo population in six regions of Mexico, starting with the Mestizo-Mayan population in Yucatan State," Affymetrix spokesman Andy Noble told BioArray News in an e-mail this week.
"This will be the largest genotyping study undertaken in Latin America and the information will be used to help develop more personalized medicine for these people," Noble said.
"It is not a significant part of our business, but there are some exciting growth opportunities there."
According to Noble, Affy now sees Mexico as "a global leader in genomic medicine," proving that some of the bigger companies in the microarray space are starting to view the Latin American market as a potential growth engine, with some, including ABI, stating that the partnership could result in diagnostic assays useful in the US.
"It is not a significant part of our business, but there are some exciting growth opportunities there," Doug Farrell, Affymetrix's head of investor relations, told BioArray News this week.
According to Farrell, Affy generates 50 percent of its annual sales in the US and Canada, 30 percent in Europe, and 20 percent in the Asia-Pacific region. That leaves little room for sales attributed to South and Central America, but Noble and Farrell both said that researchers in the region are using Affy's equipment.
Neither Farrell nor Noble would elaborate on the company's other partners in the region, however. Farrell said that while Affy has recently added service providers in Europe and Asia, it still has none from the Rio Grande to Tierra Del Fuego.
"There are definitely labs using our equipment in Mexico and South America," Farrell said. "There are no [service providers] listed in either Mexico or other parts of Latin America at this point."
In Farrell's eyes, Mexico's market potential has Affy interested in the region. "We think that these markets are ones that will provide a nice opportunity for incremental growth in the long run," Farrell said.
According to Stuart Matlow, a spokesperson for Agilent Technologies, which is not involved in the INMEGEN project, Agilent is also interested in exploring opportunities in Latin America for large-scale population studies, similar to the one involving Affy, ABI, IBM and INMEGEN.
"Agilent considers the Americas an emerging region for translational genomics research," said Matlow, who declined to go into details about what resources the company was devoting to the region.
"We're actively promoting [our] array business there, primarily through our established customer base. Other than this, I can't share our plans for the region," he wrote in an e-mail to BioArray News this week.
Ana Kapor, a spokesperson for Applied Biosystems, said in an interview that "ABI is actually collaborating with INMEGEN on several things" including genotyping on the company's TaqMan DME genotyping assays and "a pilot project to basically sequence various genes of pharmacogenetic interest in the Mexican population."
ABI also sees the potential for developing diagnostic assays, according to a company official.
Carlos Davila, chief of INMEGEN’s Hi-Performance Supercomputing Unit and Rodrigo Goya, a member of the Unit work with their new bioinformatics equipment.
Kim Caple, ABI's director of marketing for genetic analysis, told BioArray News' sister publication Pharmacogenomics Reporter last week that "Applied Biosystems will work with the data resulting from the discovery phase of the project to identify new TaqMan genomic assays, and/or resequencing primers that are specific and medically relevant to the Mexican and Mexican-American population."
Mike Fitzpatrick, ABI's vice president of global key accounts, also told Pharmacogenomics Reporter that targeted disease areas could include "some of the more prevalent ones, like diabetes and asthma and hypertension, and then move on to some other things that are specific to the Mexican population."
Kapor declined to comment on whether ABI will match the funding provided to INMEGEN by the Mexican government but said that "their initial funding has been approved by the Mexican congress, and is currently being appropriated."
Santiago March, the communications director at INMEGEN, also declined to comment on all financial matters regarding the partnerships with Affy and ABI.
Like Affy, ABI hasn't seen much in the way of revenue from the region so far. Kapor said that the company reports its revenue per region for the US, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and 'Other.' The latter category "includes Latin America, but it's still fairly small," Kapor said.
Last year, ABI's revenues for territory outside of the US and Canada, Europe and the Asian-Pacific region amounted to 4 percent of its total revenues, according to the company's fourth-quarter report.
The immediate financial benefits of the partnership for the companies may be unclear, but INMEGEN offers its partners a cost-effective environment for translational research that is also useful to the significant Latin-American population in the US — some 13 percent according to a 2004 US Census Bureau estimate — where the firms do most of their business.
"Analyzing and characterizing genetic variation in our unique population is the only way to cost-effectively develop better strategies for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of common diseases in our country, such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension," Gerardo Jimenez Sanchez, the director general of INMEGEN, said in a statement.
Still, while companies like Affy and ABI see promise in Mexico, others in the space, like San Diego-based Illumina, aren't convinced that there is a market just a few miles south of their headquarters.
According to Jay Flatley, Illumina has no plans to begin expanding its sales and marketing efforts into Central and South America at this time.
"[There isn't] much of a market in those countries for our arrays," Flatley said.
— Justin Petrone ([email protected])