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As GE Prepares to Scuttle CodeLink, Users Will Have to Pick Other Chips

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One by one, microarray customers that have used GE Healthcare’s CodeLink bioarray platform in their core labs, research products, and service businesses were told last week of GE’s plan to discontinue its pre-printed arrays — a move that is certain to change the way they work.
 
Final orders are set to be taken in February for last shipments set to be made in April. While GE has pledged to supply its existing customers with CodeLink chips through the end of their projects, the company said it will help them switch platforms when the CodeLink inventory runs dry, thereby surrendering its customers to former rivals Agilent, Illumina, NimbleGen, and others.
 
“If we have a customer in the middle of a project we will help them complete the project and, if necessary, help them switch to an alternative platform from a competitor,” a GE Healthcare spokesperson told BioArray News this week.
 
For Scott Magnuson, president of GenUs BioSystems, a microarray services company that has offered CodeLink analysis service since it was founded in 2003, GE’s decision is slightly personal. As a former scientist at Motorola Life Sciences, Magnuson helped engineer the CodeLink platform. Now he is being forced to possibly abandon the platform he helped create for one sold by another company.
 
“We’ve been assured that we can potentially get arrays through 2007. That allows us to transfer our customers over in a much more smooth fashion,” he told BioArray News this week. After CodeLink is cut off, Magnuson said that the company will adopt another platform. “We feel very comfortable that GenUs can take up any platform and provide good data,” he said.
 
In a similar situation is Med BioGene, a Canadian life sciences company that offers CodeLink arrays as a service through the office in Vancouver, BC. However, CEO Erinn Broshko told BioArray News this week that its services offering is only a small portion of the company’s business and that GE’s decision will not hurt Med BioGene.
 
“We have been very pleased with the performance of the CodeLink platform in developing and validating our biomarkers,” he said. But [we] decided … that it made sense from a business perspective to consider acquiring a secondary platform to validate our biomarkers. The discontinuation of CodeLink will not have a material effect on our biomarker development programs,” he added.
 
Broshko said that Med BioGene’s decision on which platform to acquire will depend heavily on the platform being used by its potential partners. “The leaders appear to be Affymetrix and Agilent,” he said.
 
Another company that won’t be hurt by GE’s decision is Nyrion, an Edinburgh, UK-based array services firm that began offering CodeLink arrays in 2005, only to sell the business due to lack of demand for the platform (see BAN 8/2/2005).
 
Peter Estibeiro, the former managing director at Nyrion, said that he was surprised that the unit was being discontinued as GE had “put a lot of effort into the system and it is technically one of the best microarray platforms available.”
 
Still, Estibeiro said that it was hard to sell the service while he was at Nyrion. Now commercial director at BioCule, an Icelandic company that sells instruments for nucleic acid separation, Estibeiro said that “Nyrion always found it difficult to position the CodeLink bioarrays and present the offering effectively.” 
 
“It wasn't a good seller although it attracted a lot of interest and technical acclaim,” he told BioArray News this week. “Affymetrix [has] a very strong market position and the market has invested a lot in the Affy platform, which is normally perfectly adequate. Nyrion did not make much headway selling our CodeLink service and we eventually decided to stop offering it.”
Other Platforms to ‘Pick Up Slack’
 
When it comes to academic labs, some users said that they are in a position to discontinue offering CodeLink because they already have other platforms installed that will replace GE’s arrays.
 
“We were one of the earliest core facilities to use CodeLink. It’s been a very popular platform, but I think that other platforms will pick up the work from CodeLink,” said Gary Hardiman, the director of the BioMedical Genomics Microarray Facility at the University of California in San Diego.
 
Hardiman told BioArray News that BIOGEM also offers researchers arrays from Illumina, Agilent, and Applied Biosystems, and that the other platforms will most likely pick up CodeLink’s slack.
 
“Illumina and Agilent [arrays] are quite popular,” he said. “I am encouraging anybody that was running projects on CodeLink to wrap them up as quickly as possible.” Hardiman added that GE’s decision surprised him but that it was the natural outcome of an evolving microarray market.
 
“I didn’t think that CodeLink would suddenly get yanked, but there’s a limited market out there,” he said. “Sooner or later it was inevitable that some of the players would disappear. Unfortunately, it was CodeLink that got axed.”
 

“Sooner or later it was inevitable that some of the players would disappear. Unfortunately, it was CodeLink that got axed.”

Still, the discontinuation could hurt some researchers. Naftali Kaminski, director of the Simmons Center and the Functional Genomic Resource Center at the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center, said that the inability to access CodeLink arrays could hurt several projects his center is overseeing.
 
“Among other projects we have big [government] and industry-funded studies in which we look for longitudinal changes in gene expression in pulmonary fibrosis patients over time,” Kaminski told BioArray News this week. “Changing technologies may adversely affect the quality of our results.”

 
Kaminski added that his center was concerned about CodeLink in recent months and that it began looking for an alternative last spring, eventually settling on Agilent Technologies.
 
“Looking at the market it is obvious that we need multiple suppliers of high-quality expression arrays and that the competition was good for the scientific community,” he said. “We all enjoyed the decrease in prices and increase in quality and diversity of arrays and I hope that losing CodeLink does not reverse this trend.”
 
Vladimir Benes, head of the genomics core facility at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, called GE’s move “extremely hard to understand” and said that there are a “few projects, for which we anticipated use of CodeLink due to its appealing attributes, which we, for the time being, will have to abandon, since no suitable substitute is presently available.”
 
Like other users, Benes said that EMBL will turn to other platforms as CodeLink shuts down. He said that the core facility will most likely assess arrays from Agilent and NimbleGen Systems for projects supported in the lab. EMBL has offered Affymetrix GeneChips, as well as CodeLink, to its customers in the past.
 
Roderick Jensen, director of the Biotechnology Center at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, said he “was hopeful that GE would see the value of providing a fast, high-quality platform for cross-validation,” he told BioArray News this week.
 
“The CodeLink arrays were particularly attractive because they could be run in any lab with access to a basic scanner using the same cRNA prep as for the most common Affymetrix arrays,” he said. Jensen pointed out that, although the same cross validation can also be performed with the Illumina and Agilent arrays, “Illumina requires access to a very expensive BeadStation and Agilent currently requires a separate sample preparation from total RNA.”
 
Despite this, Jensen said that his lab will “now start investigating the utility of the Illumina and Agilent arrays for these purposes.”

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