Protein array maker GenTel Biosciences said this week that it has acquired a protein chip platform from GlaxoSmithKline in a deal that includes personnel, instrumentation, intellectual property rights, and four multiplex immunoassays developed and validated at GSK.
GenTel plans to launch the platform in the coming months. Financial details were not disclosed.
According to Robert Negm, GenTel’s vice president of business development, the acquisition is a watershed moment in the company’s efforts to establish itself as a protein-array firm that sells content as well as slides.
The acquisition could enable GenTel to gain a leg-up in the still-nascent protein-array marketplace by virtue of product proliferation alone. While other companies like Whatman and Invitrogen sell one or two protein array lines, GenTel now has several in its pipeline, including two that will launch this month.
The buy increased GenTel’s headcount to 17 from eight just as the company moves into a “much larger facility” in Madison, Wis., Negm told BioArray News last week.
Negm said the company has also opened a laboratory in Research Triangle Park, NC, where the GSK group was based. “So we just went through a hyper-growth phase. We now have two facilities in two parts of the country and we have all this new equipment, personnel, and technology,” he said.
In its six years of business, GenTel has traditionally been a protein-array slide vendor. However, over the past year, the firm has recruited R&D talent; developed condition-specific assays, such as its CoagChip for the study of blood clots; and rechristened itself GenTel Biosciences from GenTel Biosurfaces to signal its change in strategy from being a tool vendor to a research assay provider.
In fact, Negm said that the acquisition was facilitated through GenTel’s relationship as a surface chemistry and slide provider for GSK. The companies grew closer in November 2006 when Anna Astriab Fisher, a principal scientist in GSK’s technology-development department, joined GenTel as vice president of assay development. Fisher helped develop the four assays GenTel plans to launch.
“We have gained all of these multiplex, validated immunoassays that were done on our surface chemistry,” Negm said. “That’s actually very important because they developed these tests on our slides. That gave us an advantage [in acquiring the assets] when [GSK] decided to liquidate that department,” he said.
The Four Assays
According to Negm, GenTel has acquired four protein-array chips that it will offer through its services business: a chip for human cytokines, a chip for mouse cytokines, a metabolic chip, and a matrix metalloproteinase chip.
The arrays complement several chips under development at GenTel, including the CoagChip for studying coagulation, an allergy chip for diagnosing respiratory allergies, and a high-density antibody array containing 50 cancer serum markers.
Negm said that GenTel will release the CoagChip and the human cytokines chip acquired from GSK this month. “The cytokine chip is very useful for measuring inflammation responses,” he said. “A lot of pharmaceutical companies [who] want to look at people responding to drugs [and] they [will] measure cytokines in serum or plasma to assess if there’s a therapeutic benefit or detriment.”
The mouse cytokine chip will be released in the second quarter as a fee-for-sample service, and as an off-the-shelf kit in the third quarter. Dates have not been set for the launch of the metabolic chip, nor the matrix metalloproteinase chip, which Negm said measures the analytical amounts of MMP endopeptidases.
“MMPs degrade or cleave extracellular matrix proteins like collagen, but they are involved in a variety of biological processes, such as apoptosis, cell proliferation, cellular migration, angiogenesis, and immunity,” Negm said.
Other chips, such as the GenTel-developed allergy chip, are penciled in for a third-quarter launch. Negm added that all the products would be launched initially as services, and then sold as catalog chips.
“All of our chips are first introduced as a service business where our customers ship us their biological specimens,” Negm said. “Then we measure 10 to 50 proteins on our multiplex immunoassays, and in turn we deliver to the customer a comprehensive report, which includes the amount of protein in the blood or tissue sample.”
Negm said that GenTel will offer the new assays through its facilities in Madison and Research Triangle Park. He said that the company is instituting a system where it can replicate any assay in either of its labs and that it will be targeting all customers with an emphasis on pharmaceutical and biotech clients. He added that the acquisition saved GenTel considerable R&D time and dollars.
“The R&D time to build these assays comes with the platform,” he said. “Instead of us having to spend two years with four scientists to develop these assays, we bought it with all the know-how.”
“If I have done my job right and identified a significant capability gap in GSK’s armament, then this gap most likely existed at every major pharmaceutical company. So, this platform would have significant commercial value.”
If GSK’s assays are so valuable, why would the company want to sell off an internally developed platform and the chips?
Paul Domanico, a former GSK scientist who created the company’s department of technology development and who oversaw the creation of the platform, told BioArray News in an e-mail this week that the platform was created in 2000 to fill a gap in GSK’s R&D program that could not be addressed by other parties. He added that GSK probably intended all along to sell off or license the platform as it was outside the scope of its main focus as a drug maker.
“My group’s mission was to develop step-change platforms. By definition, these kinds of capabilities are not available on the market, or the marketed products fall quite short of GSK’s needs,” Domanico noted. Domanico currently runs a consulting business.
“For almost every technology my department created, the exit strategy was either to license it to another company or to spin it out into a new company,” he wrote.
Domanico also speculated that the platform GenTel acquired could have “significant commercial value” for other pharmaceutical companies because it was developed to fill a step in GSK’s R&D processes.
“If I have done my job right and identified a significant capability gap in GSK’s armament, then this gap most likely existed at every major pharmaceutical company. So, this platform would have significant commercial value,” he wrote.
He said that possession of the platform would give GenTel a long-term advantage in the market, whereas it created only a short-term advantage for GSK.
“Obviously, competitive advantage is in the eye of the beholder; so, to a tool or device company the competitive advantage of a platform can be significantly longer,” Domanico wrote.
GSK did not return e-mails seeking comment by press time.