Looking to meet the needs of the emerging market for antibody microarrays, at least four companies are launching or are planning to launch commercial antibody arrays or corresponding tools by the end of this quarter.
Though the new products vary in technology and applicability, the focus of those companies playing in the nascent space appears to be to offer researchers access what has been thought of as an exclusive technology, while enabling them to customize their own content.
First to hit the market this spring are Decision Biomarkers and Fluidigm, both of which are offering antibody arrays, but are approaching the market from different sides — both technologically and geographically.
According to Jeanne Cardona, the vice president of sales at Waltham, Mass.-based DBI, the company launched its 8-Plex Cytokine Max Biochip last week in order to meet the needs of drug researchers that the company claims will be able to test for eight standard biomarkers linked to several inflammatory disorders at the same time using the chip (see Products).
"Companies that are good at rapid customization may do best [in this market], since it's hard to develop a product that will have broad use, since the needs are so varied."
In addition, DBI announced the availability of its iMark Biochip for use in customizable assays as well as its Avantra Q400 Biomarker Workstation, which Cardona said "serves as a conduit to the pharmaceutical and biotech markets." She said that the company's debut chips were "protein microarrays" and that the Max biochip used antibody pairs to run a sandwich immunoassay. Cardona described iMark as a chip where "customers can design proteins that they want to go on that chip." The company's current limitation is 40 markers with 10 replicates per marker for a total of 400 spots.
"There are a lot of companies that are looking at proprietary markers — and they like to keep that IP to themselves," Cardona said of the need for the iMark chip
"This allows us to convert their markers to our biochip while allowing them to retain the rights to those markers," she said.
South San Francisco, Calif.-based Fluidigm this month will also launch a customizable antibody array platform, similar in intent to DBI's iMark biochip, but not in technology.
Rather than printing antibodies on a substrate, like DBI, Fluidigm sells a microfluidic biochip called the BioMark 48.18 Dynamic Array.
Mike Lucero, vice president of sales and marketing at Fluidigm, said the company's chip uses tiny valves to immobilize capture antibodies on different columns within the chip. Samples are then run across the columns and the protein of interest will get captured by the antibody. A second antibody with the detection agent is then run on the array.
Like DBI's iMark, though, Lucero said that the BioMark 48.18 Dynamic Array is a "blank array and the user can put anything they want on it." Also like DBI, Fluidigm is aiming to sell to researchers that are interested in using these high-throughput tools for biomarker validation.
According, to Brian Haab, an investigator at the Van Andel Research Institute in Michigan who specializes in antibody arrays, DBI and Fluidigm's focus on customizable content could signal which way the market for antibody arrays is heading.
"Companies that are good at rapid customization may do best [in this market], since it's hard to develop a product that will have broad use, since the needs are so varied," Haab, who also sits on GenTel BioScience's scientific advisory board, said. He also said that he had been using in-house printed antibody arrays, but that there was a "significant barrier to [research] entry there, so a commercial, custom product may be useful."
Pierce and UHN
Two other companies that are looking to meet the perceived need for antibody array technology are Pierce Biotechnology and the University Health Network's Microarray Center in Toronto, which ships its arrays globally.
In Pierce's case, the company will be releasing a new benchtop-sized SearchLight system with a CCD imager in May, according to Scott Van Arsdell, associate director of research at Pierce. The company's current SearchLight system is four feet tall, Van Arsdell said.
Van Arsdell told BioArray News last month that SearchLight is "basically a high-throughput, multiplex, plate-based [enzyme-linked immunosorbent] assay" and is configured to work with the company's SearchLight Quantitative Protein Arrays.
At UHN's Microarray Center, work is being done to ready a series of antibody arrays for release later this year. Neil Winegarden, the manager of the center, told BioArray News this week that UHN is currently developing several different antibody array products.
"Currently we are focusing on a cell-signaling array that can help to identify the phosphorylation state of several different signaling molecules in parallel," Winegarden said. "We are also looking at the possibility of an infectious disease array — a panel of antibodies that can, for example, identify several different respiratory diseases," Winegarden continued.
He said that all of these products will initially be available through UHN although it is "considering a spin-off company that will manage the distribution."
"They will be available world-wide, as are all of our products, and they will be made available to both commercial and academic groups," Winegarden said. "In addition to straight sales, we will also offer services around these products for groups that do not have all of the necessary equipment."
When asked why UHN is investing in providing antibody microarrays, Winegarden said that "there have been very few products which have been introduced to allow researchers to harness the potential of these technologies."
"We believe the time has come to usher in the use of the next phase of functional genomic and proteomic technologies," he said. "Many people are excited about being able to use antibody arrays … but the tools simply do not exist as of yet," he explained. "That has left the technology in the hands of a few pioneering early adopters that have the resources to create these technologies de novo in their own laboratories," he continued. "We want to remove this hurdle and let researchers get down to the real science."
Christer Wingren, a lecturer in the Department of Immunotechnology at Lund University in Sweden, told BioArray News last week that the advent of new antibody array technologies was due to a "clear need" within academics and industry.
"The need for novel, additional technologies within high-throughput proteomics is huge, and the general opinion is that antibody-based microarrays will provide this," Wingren said. "It will of course not solve all the problems or issues, but it will enable us to address issues in a different manner than traditional proteomics based on 2Dgels and mass spectrometry allows you," he said.
Unlike Van Andel's Haab, Wingren said that there is demand for more focused arrays — like the ones being developed by DBI, Pierce, and UHN, especially in diagnostics, but that the need "depends on who you are asking."
However, Wingren said it was up to commercial manufacturers to determine whether the new technology sinks or swims.
"If affordable state-of-the-art antibody microarrays can be developed, then there will be a great market," Wingren said. "The technology has a tremendous potential within disease diagnostics and biomarker discovery."
— Justin Petrone ([email protected])