Continuing what appears to be a trend towards offering lower-throughput benchtop versions of industrial-strength protein array imaging systems, GenOptics is launching a compact version of its flagship SPRiPlex system while planning content arrays and seeking distributors in North America, according to a company official.
Philippe Kerouredan, GenOptics' CEO, told BioArray News this week that the company decided to roll out the new benchtop system, called SPRiLab, to meet the demand for more experimental research in academic labs — especially from biophysicists with a focus on surface chemistry.
"SPRiPlex [was designed] for biologists, especially in the pharmaceutical industry, biotech industry, and academic research labs," Kerouredan said. "SPRiLab can also be used by biologists, but is primarily aimed at people in biophysics and research labs [who are] working on surface chemistry applications," he added.
By deciding to offer something smaller — and cheaper — to customers, GenOptics has followed a trend set by competitors like Biacore and, more recently, Pierce Biotechnology (see BAN 1/17/2006, BAN 4/4/2006).
According to Kerouredan, the existing SPRiPlex is more automated than SPRiLab. Unlike SPRiPlex, the injector valves and diluter are not integrated in the newer instrument, and SPRiLab also has a less sensitive CCD camera compared to the larger, older instrument, he said.
"Up until now we haven't provided any content, but this is going to change, of course, in the future because the added value is much higher when you provide biochips with content."
"SPRiLab is a versatile instrument of small size that can be adapted to any kind of application, and it is specially dedicated to academic research labs," Kerouredan said. "SPRiPlex is closer to industrial needs or large academic labs willing to perform screening assays," he explained.
The difference in performance is reflected in the price tags of the two instruments: While SPRiPlex sells for €90,000 ($110,000), SPRiLab is priced at less than half of that at €40,000.
One thing that hasn't changed is the underlying technology. Both systems are based on the firm's SPRi — surface plasmon resonance imaging — technology, which uses light to measure a bound mass, such as a protein, on a substrate. GenOptics also sells the substrates — with its own gold-coated, streptavidin-free surface chemistry — for use in both of its instruments.
Currently, users have to use their own in-house arrayers to print content on GenOptic's substrates. The current layout of the system allows approximately 400 spots to be measured in real time, according to Kerouredan, although it is theoretically possible to run an experiment with up to 1,000 probes.
"It's a bare surface and people add what they want — their proteins, their peptides, their DNA or whatever," he said. "Users currently have to spot their own chips and any existing arrayer in the market can be used. All you need is contact between the liquid and the surface of the biochip," he said.
However, Kerouredan said that the company is considering offering content arrays in the near future. He declined to offer a timeline for when content will become part of GenOptics' offering, but said that the company has plans to introduce pre-spotted peptide arrays, as well as DNA arrays.
"Up until now we haven't provided any content, but this is going to change, of course, in the future because the added value is much higher when you provide biochips with content," he said.
GenOptics is currently printing some pre-spotted chips, albeit in a custom setting. Kerouredan said that the firm has been involved in a project with the French Army to develop a pathogen-detecting chip that can be used in the event of a bioterror attack or pandemic to quickly identify up to about 30 different pathogens.
"A small contract was initiated two years ago, and a second followed to validate our technology for this purpose," Kerouredan said. "The results were very satisfactory so the army decided last year to invest more in this technology. The main interest is that you can let [our system] run for 24 hours a day and you don't need to [wait] in case of a biological attack to detect a pathogen," he said. Kerouredan declined to be more specific about the pathogen-detecting system.
Kerouredan said that the 5-year-old company is in the midst of branching out from its perch in Orsay, just outside Paris. While the company has developed some significant partnerships within France — most notably with the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique in Grenoble and the Institut d'Optique Théorique et Appliquée in Orsay, both of which own small shares in the company — GenOptics' international reach has been limited at best.
GenOptics' SPRi technology is currently patented only in Europe, but Kerouredan said that the company has now filed patent applications for SPRi in the US, and is seeking a greater presence in North America.
"Regarding the US market, our goal is to be present next year through one or more distributors to cover the country," he said. He added that Genopole, a French biotech hub that provides seed money and support to nascent firms, is supporting the company's expansion strategy.
Kerouredan identified proteomics as a growth area for the company's technology. He also said that the company's technology could be used to complement existing technologies, like enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. "If you compare [our technology] to ELISA, it's labor free. So cost-wise this is quite interesting. I wouldn't say it's going to replace the existing ELISA, but it's a technology with very interesting features to complement what is existing for the time being," he said.
— Justin Petrone ([email protected])