Febit plans to augment its array hardware portfolio by launching a lower-cost analyzer in the second quarter, followed by a hybridization station in the future, a company official said last week.
The Heidelberg, Germany-based company may also open a lab in California if its first US facility in Boston, which opened last year, is successful.
Peer Stähler, chief scientific officer at Febit, told BioArray News that the new system, called the Geniom Analyzer, will be more affordable than Febit’s flagship Geniom One system. He said the new product is an attempt by the company to increase its flexibility in the marketplace, including making it more attractive to OEM customers.
“In the future, we will complement our hardware family with a pure analyzer. We will most probably launch it in May,” Stähler said.
The key difference between the analyzer and the Geniom One will be that, unlike the Geniom One system, the analyzer will not be able to synthesize arrays.
“The analyzer offers automated protocols, but no probe synthesis, and contains about half the functionality of the Geniom One, so it should be about half the price,” he added.
Stähler said that the company has not decided on a list price for the Geniom Analyzer but is considering a price “below $100,000”. The Geniom One is priced around $200,000. He said that the firm hopes the lower price of the new system will entice customers that did not want to invest in the Geniom One.
“It makes processes for customers easier because they don’t have to perform the production of the arrays because that takes place at Febit,” Stähler said. “Psychologically, some people just don’t want to have organic chemical synthesis. They are not used to it. They are not biologists.”
Also, Stähler said that the addition of the Geniom Analyzer could facilitate OEM deals with customers. “We have discussions with a few customers that would especially like to produce arrays themselves,” he said. “Two of them are companies. So they consider Geniom One a production technology and then would like to have the Analyzer for their customers.”
The Geniom Analyzer will contain most of the same features as the Geniom One, but will require company assistance in probe synthesis. The system will use Febit’s biochips, which currently comprise 48,000 features per chip, although there are plans to raise density to between 120,000 and 500,000 spots per array this year, with a goal of increasing density to the 1 million feature level in 2009.
In addition to the Analyzer launch and density upgrades, a separate Geniom Hybridizer unit is also in the pipeline. The system would offer Geniom users hybridization but would require them to use a third-party scanner, instead of Febit’s detection instrumentation. Stähler declined to say when the Geniom Hybridizer could become available.
According to Stähler, rather than positioning itself as another company chasing the catalog array R&D market, Febit instead sees itself as a partner for more experimental applications. The firm has few competitors in the do-it-yourself array-synthesis business, and those with tools on the market, like CombiMatrix, have recently signaled their intent to focus more on molecular diagnostics (see BAN 2/27/2007).
One application area that Febit sees as promising is the market for microRNA profiling tools. Stähler said that the firm’s Geniom One instrument, which allows users to privately design their own arrays without input from Febit, could be attractive for miRNA researchers because of its privacy feature.
“One of the top priority application areas we are working on is miRNA profiling,” Stähler explained. “It’s a pretty competitive field and some customers don’t want to share new miRNAs before they patent them.”
“The truth is that [funding] is always relevant to their needs. So if the outcome is valuable enough for them, money isn't an issue anymore.”
Other targeted areas include genotyping, epigenetic profiling, and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP)-on-chip applications. According to Stähler, a key component in broadening Febit’s application portfolio will be its office in Boston that will soon be ready to take on R&D projects with collaborators.
“We believe that [the Boston office] will start [its] own R&D projects soon. Then we will be able to add applications to our portfolio in Boston,” Stähler said.
Febit established its presence in the Boston area in 2006, and said recently that the region is ripe with potential for Febit-related projects — despite competition from rival array companies, many of which have offices in the region.
“The area is saturated with vendors and promotions and sales people and free instruments,” Stähler said. “But you cannot do certain applications that we can do. So, essentially, there is no way around us.”
Stähler said that the flat budget at the US National Institutes of Health will not dampen demand. “The truth is that [NIH funding] is always relevant to their needs. So if the outcome is valuable enough for them, money isn't an issue anymore,” Stähler said. “It depends on the applications. If the applications are what people need, then they will allocate funding from their budgets.”
Stefan Matysiak, Febit’s vice president and general manager, told BioArray News recently that rather than seeing larger array companies like Affymetrix or Agilent Technologies as rivals, the company instead prefers to work on unique, academic-minded projects.
“Our focus is not the typical microarray user,” Matysiak said. “We want to always be flexible and always be the first to have a probe designed for a specific application. These are the people we work with, people who have creative and visionary ideas for microarrays.”
If the Boston operation is a success, Stähler said that Febit may dispatch Matysiak, a former R&D scientist at Applied Biosystems, to California to set up a similar office and to cater to local scientists.
“The idea is to grow this company here [so] that we can provide the same kinds of services and support that we have in Germany,” Stähler said. “In parallel, we are going to repeat what we have done on the East Coast on the West Coast in the future, most probably in the San Francisco, Stanford University area.”