Are CodeLink bioarrays worthy of new ownership? That's the question that is on long-time CodeLink users’ minds this month as GE Healthcare has kept its promise to stop manufacturing the array platform that has over the years changed hands from Motorola to Amersham and finally to GE.
GE spokesperson Arvind Gopalratnam told BioArray News in an e-mail this week that GE is now considering selling the array unit — a position that GE left open when it initially announced its plans to terminate the business last year.
"We are open to discussion with parties who may be interested in buying the CodeLink business," Gopalratnam wrote. "Right now, we are not disclosing any details of any approaches that may have been made at this stage for reasons of commercial confidentiality."
Last December, GE decided that CodeLink was not growing fast enough and was ill-suited for penetrating the lucrative molecular diagnostics market. A GE spokesperson told BioArray News at the time that “while we believe we have delivered a high-quality product, our prospects to profitably grow this product long-term have fallen short of expectations" (see BAN 12/19/2006).
But while most users concede that the platform is at least for the time being dead, many do not rule out the return of CodeLink. At the same time, some users have already switched to other platforms, which means that if the bioarrays do come back on the market, they might not reach as many customers as before.
Roderick Jensen, the director of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute's genomics core laboratory, told BioArray News this week that he is uncertain of the platform's future. Jensen, who joined VBI in February, previously used CodeLink as director of the Biotechnology Center at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Jensen's new lab solely offers Affymetrix microarrays, but he said that he would consider adding a second platform in the future, and that he is "interested in seeing a future” for the CodeLink platform.
According to Naftali Kaminski, the director of the Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease at the University of Pittsburgh and a long-time CodeLink user, slow platform development on the part of GE prompted him to begin evaluating other arrays last summer.
"We shifted to Agilent expression arrays ... because we were concerned with [the] lack of development on CodeLink and got very competitive prices [from Agilent]," Kaminski told BioArray News in an e-mail this week.
At the same time, Kaminski wrote that GE’s decision to scuttle CodeLink has affected his center, which will have to shift data sets from ongoing CodeLink experiments to the Agilent platform. However, he wrote that the switch would not have long-term significance for a variety of reasons.
"For small experiments and discovery experiments it does not really matter," Kaminski wrote. "Also we use more and more approaches for integration of multiple levels of information that compensate for some of the difficulties. In the end it is all about experimental design; if you always apply block designs [and] maintain extra samples, you can compensate for the shifts in technology," he added.
Another user that somewhat more reluctantly adopted Agilent is GenUs Biosystems, a Northbrook, Ill.-based service lab that until this month offered CodeLink arrays.
“In the end it is all about experimental design; if you always apply block designs [and] maintain extra samples, you can compensate for the shifts in technology.”
GenUs President Scott Magnuson, who helped engineer the platform while he was at Motorola, said that GenUs has "built up inventory [of CodeLink arrays] and has monitored our customers that are using CodeLink to finish their projects."
Magnuson complained that GE’s decision to stop producing CodeLink had left GenUs with limited time to evaluate and switch platforms, which in turn hampered its ability to do business.
"GE was not very sympathetic," Magnuson said. "Once our customers heard that we weren't getting CodeLink, everybody pulled back and we had to take our own time and [use our own] funding to evaluate Agilent while we were still working with CodeLink."
Magnuson said that the discontinuation of the product put GenUs in "real dangerous waters" and that GE "just cut off our blood line."
After deciding to adopt the Agilent platform, Magnuson said that GenUs will most likely adopt a second [backup] platform because it doesn't want to go through a similar experience of having a supplier halt manufacturing in the future.
"It was just luck that we were evaluating Agilent at the same time that GE decided to scuttle the platform," he said. “Agilent did the best job in terms of trying to woo our business.”
Unlike Magnuson, Vladimir Benes, head of the genomics core facility at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, said he had no problems with dealing with GE as they wound down the platform. Benes' facility offered Affy and CodeLink bioarrays until GE made its announcement.
"As far as their pledge was concerned, we received everything we ordered and we are well stocked up for a couple of months," Benes told BioArray News this week. "So from that point of view, they stuck to their word."
GE “hasn't changed their decision on it and GE will not revise or bring back this unit in the future," he added. "But I think that CodeLink is a good platform and if this platform comes back I will appreciate it."