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Fresh From CodeLink Buy, Applied Microarrays To Position Itself as Flexible Custom Shop

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VANCOUVER, BC — If there is one message that Applied Microarrays wants you to take home, it’s that it is not Motorola, nor Amersham, and definitely not GE.
 
For the newly formed Tempe, Ariz.-based company that took the CodeLink bioarray platform off GE Healthcare’s hands, the firm’s moniker distinguishes it from past incarnations and underscores its goal to be a go-to shop for custom and original equipment manufacturing deals with academics and other companies.
 
AMI acquired CodeLink from GE for an undisclosed sum at the end of April, six months after GE decided to discontinue the product line (see BAN 5/8/2007).
 
According to Alistair Malcolm, the firm’s CEO, one of the reasons the company went with the name “Applied Microarrays” rather than just “CodeLink, Inc.” is because the firm wants to stress that it is more than just the CodeLink platform, even though the bioarrays are an essential component of its business.
 
“Our vision is three-fold. We want to continue the CodeLink platform and support these products, secondly to partner on custom arrays, and thirdly to capitalize on the factory and become the highest quality and highest capacity [OEM] partner there is out there,” Malcolm told BioArray News during an interview at the World Microarray Congress, held here last week.
 
The transition to a shop that sees custom jobs and OEM deals as its forte is not a total departure for the CodeLink crew that joined Applied Microarrays following the acquisition. For instance, GE partnered with Ambion to develop a miRNA array, and had partnerships with diagnostics shops like DiaGenic, which it has passed on to AMI. However, AMI’s freedom to operate and its focus on those kinds of deals is new, and those deals have also gained strategic relevance as the company moves forward.
 
“We are still in business for CodeLink, the existing gene expression catalog products — human, mouse, and rat. We are truly supporting these and taking these forward,” Malcolm said. However, he said, the company views custom development as an important opportunity. “In the past the CodeLink platform had not really been open to the whole industry to come for these application-specific custom microarrays,” he said.
 
According to Malcolm, one trait that distinguishes AMI from earlier companies that sold CodeLink is that the company is officially platform agnostic. For example, if customers want arrays printed on slides sold by Corning, rather than the SurModics-manufactured CodeLink Activated Slides, then Applied Microarrays will do it.
 
“If someone has developed an assay and optimized it and they come to us for an OEM [agreement], they might want to retain that substrate so they don’t have to remake their assay,” explained Tamma Kaysser-Kranich, the company’s chief scientific officer who presented at the WMC.
 
“That is a difference from the past. In the past we encouraged anyone who came to us to switch to the SurModics surface, but we realized that that may not be feasible in all cases,” she told BioArray News last week.
 
Kaysser-Kranich also said that the company is not limited by what kinds of molecules it can array on a substrate. The company has already demonstrated its ability to array microRNAs through the deal with Ambion, although that array, MiRvana, is now sold by Applied Biosystems. Additionally the company is now touting its capabilities as a protein array provider, though it is not planning on introducing catalog protein chips itself.
 
“From the early days we always had a proteins group that had developed capabilities for proteins. We had never been able to launch something but we have the capabilities to spot proteins in an effective manner,” she said. “But we have developed antibody arrays and cytokine arrays and we are open to doing projects like this,” Kaysser-Kranich said.
 
The Future of CodeLink
 
Last December when GE decided to scuttle CodeLink, the official reasoning was that the platform could not compete against array-makers like Affymetrix, Illumina, and Agilent Technologies in the gene expression market and that it was poorly suited for molecular diagnostics.
 

“We are still in business for CodeLink, the existing gene expression catalog products — human, mouse, and rat. We are truly supporting these and taking these forward.”

A GE spokesperson told BioArray News at the time that the company’s “prospects to profitably grow this product long-term” had “fallen short of expectations” and that “the majority of future molecular diagnostics products will use technologies other than microarrays primarily due to the small number of genes that will need to be measured for most clinical molecular diagnostics applications" (see BAN 12/19/2006). 
 
At the time that GE made that decision, the CodeLink group was developing several content-specific arrays including those with genes of interest for those studying metabolism and women’s health.
 
Randall Lockner, a former GE senior scientist who has joined AMI as vice president of business development, told BioArray News at the WMC here last week that those R&D projects have continued despite the transition from GE to AMI, and that customers can expect some of those chips on the market by the end of this year.
 
Lockner pointed out that GE had already began selling its ADME Rat 16-Assay Bioarray for metabolism studies prior to dropping CodeLink, and that ADME 16-Assay Bioarrays are now available for human and mouse.
 
Additionally, the company is moving forward with its plans to develop and sell other arrays, such as a women’s health chip, and a cardiac pathology chip, with Lockner first mentioned last week. He told BioArray News last October that the idea of that array is to “identify the common genes in breast cancer, cervical cancer, other common cancers and diseases that afflict women and to place that content into a 16-assay format" (see BAN 10/10/2006).
 
Last week, Lockner said that AMI is “still engaged in discussions with leading scientists around the world” to bring the content-specific chips to market. “We have been delayed somewhat in the transition to Applied Microarrays, but … in that area of women’s health and cardiac pathology we foresee having catalog products in the 16-array format sometime in the next three to six months,” he said.
 
Another area that AMI will continue to pursue is its iCenter web portal, which was launched at the end of 2005 and provides customers with probe sequence information, custom bioarray design, and ordering, and enables users to securely submit target sequences and request probe designs.
 
Lockner said that the iCenter is still being hosted on the GE website but that within a month it will be transitioned to the AMI site where users will be able to continue using it. Lockner added that Applied Microarrays intends to pursue further upgrades to iCenter in the coming months.

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