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ExonHit Secures Position in Splice Array Market With Affy Deal, Expands Agreement with BioMrieux

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ExonHit Therapeutics this week further secured its place in the developing market for splice arrays with an agreement that will make its content available on Affymetrix's GeneChip platform, while broadening an existing agreement with French diagnostics firm BioMérieux.

Last month, ExonHit said that it would make its SpliceArrays — which contain alternative splicing content for specific gene families — available as a product on Agilent Technologies' microarray platform.

Now, through a similar agreement with Affymetrix, ExonHit's content is available to any lab that has invested in either the Affymetrix or Agilent platform.

"Our objective is to make SpliceArrays available to all researchers," Laurent Bracco, ExonHit's vice president of technology development, told BioArray News via e-mail this week.



"This doesn't affect the relationship at all from Agilent's standpoint. ExonHit is the premier provider of splicing technology, and the performance of our arrays with their platform continues to fill researchers' needs."

According to Bracco, many of ExonHit's potential customers already "posses an Affymetrix platform or have access to one through a core facility [and] will likely be interested in acquiring SpliceArrays in the GeneChip format."

"Customers will now be able to access ExonHit's proprietary SpliceArray designs on the two market leading microarray platforms," he said.

While it makes sense for a company like ExonHit to attempt to achieve complete market permeability, it is worth noting the role Agilent Technologies played in the development of the SpliceArray product.

Aram Mangasarian, ExonHit's vice president of marketing, told BioArray News in February that ExonHit began its relationship with Agilent in April 2004 (see BAN 2/9/2005).

A formal collaboration was announced in November 2004, three and a half months before ExonHit began offering its SpliceArray service (see BAN 11/17/2004).

Wilson Woo, director of strategic programs for Agilent's bioresearch solutions group, told BioArray News last November that the duo had explored "mutual interest [in this area]."

"While they have the know-how and technology in splice variants, they need a microarray platform to put the content on. They've done some in-house spotting, but they have been looking for a collaborator," Woo said of what eventually led to the partnership.

At the time an Agilent spokesperson also told BioArray News that the relationship with ExonHit would give Agilent a competitive advantage in the array marketplace.

"From a competitive standpoint, we believe that anything we do that gives our customers a research advantage also becomes a competitive advantage,"

Stu Matlow, a spokesperson for Agilent's life sciences division, told BioArray News this week in an e-mail that ExonHit's new deal with Affymetrix will not affect that edge or its relationship with the French firm.

"This doesn't affect the relationship at all from Agilent's standpoint," he said. "ExonHit is the premier provider of splicing technology, and the performance of our arrays with their platform continues to fill researchers' needs."

Terms of the Deal

ExonHit has spent the last eight months rolling out gene family-specific splice variant arrays on the Agilent platform, introducing arrays for the GPCR and ion channel families in February, and subsequently adding the nuclear receptor, apoptosis, and cytokine gene family arrays as well as custom designed chips.

According to Bracco, the company plans to make all of its developed arrays available to customers on the GeneChip platform "at the same time" before the end of this year.

Prior to making a purchase, however, potential customers must enter into a license agreement with ExonHit for the SpliceArray technology.

"There is no up-front fee associated with the license," Bracco said. "Once signed, ExonHit notifies Affymetrix that client is licensed."

Bracco said that customers will then have two options, a "pay-as-you-go option under which the license fee is billed on a quarterly basis and corresponds to the number of SpliceArrays purchased" or a "volume commitment option which allows customers to obtain discounted pricing starting with the first array purchased."

He added that ExonHit "shall have no reach-through rights in the data or the results produced by [a] customer from the use of SpliceArrays."

Affymetrix did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

BioMérieux

Among the first Affymetrix customers to directly benefit from the new ExonHit-Affymetrix deal will be French diagnostics company BioMérieux.

ExonHit and BioMérieux released a statement last week confirming that BioMérieux had expanded an existing agreement to develop biomarkers for use in cancer diagnostics.

Specifically, BioMérieux and ExonHit have extended their collaboration for six years to develop microarray-based diagnostics for early cancer detection. While the alliance has existed for two years and primarily focused on breast cancer, the new agreement has been enlarged to other types of cancers, including colon, prostate, and lung.

The terms of the agreement call for ExonHit to grant BioMérieux an exclusive license to use its technology and methods in the field of blood diagnostics, gene profiling, and microarray design.

Also, though BioMérieux has collaborated with both companies separately in the past, it will now be able to use ExonHit's content on the Affy platform

In April, BioMérieux extended its agreement with Affymetrix to cover not only sepsis, as was agreed upon in a BioMérieux-Affy agreement in 2003, but to cover breast cancer and other cancers should BioMérieux seek to commercialize a test on Affy's platform (see BAN 4/6/2005).

Christelle Chabert, a spokesperson for BioMérieux, confirmed this week that her company would be using the ExonHit splice chips on the Affy platform.

"These two agreements indeed fit together. Affymetrix provides the platform while ExonHit focus on gene signatures content," Chabert said.

She added that "discovery results themselves will dictate next priorities" for the creation of diagnostic tests, and that tests for all "major cancers will [be developed] from the same approach [involving ExonHit and Affymetrix] throughout the multi-annual cooperation."

Though BioMérieux is the sole owner of Grenoble, France-based microarray firm Apibio, Chabert said Apibio's technology would play no role in developing tests for cancer.

ExonHit's Bracco said that he believes the combined "expertise, intellectual properties and collaborations shared between BioMérieux, Affymetrix and ExonHit will facilitate the path of diagnostic product development."

In a statement, Christophe Mérieux, the company's vice president of R&D, medical affairs, agreed that the "extended collaboration" with ExonHit "together with [BioMérieux's] already important technological portfolio, strengthens" his company's "position as a player in oncology."


— Justin Petrone ([email protected])

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