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From Illumina to GE, MAQC Participants Use Study's Results as Marketing Touchstone

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BOSTON Illumina wants you to “buy another vowel” and “switch to i.” GE Healthcare’s CodeLink unit wants you to know that it is number one when it comes to detection sensitivity. And Affymetrix wants you to know that it is still the “gold standard” when it comes to gene expression.
 
These are some of the ways in which array firms have used the recent publication of the results of the Microarray Quality Control project to increase interest in their products.
 
Though these approaches to marketing are hardly new, the context in which they are occurring is. From its inception, the MAQC project was not designed to favor any commercial platform in its results. However, now that the first results of the project have been published, some array firms are using it as a springboard to support fall marketing campaigns.
 
Consider Affy. On Sept. 8, the day the MAQC results were published, the company released a statement touting its “top performance” in the study.
“In addition to advancing the field as a whole, the data obtained from the study showed that Affymetrix GeneChip arrays demonstrated the best reproducibility within and across sites, an element critical for the success of clinical studies,” Affy stated. 
 
Lianne McLean, senior director of academic product marketing at Affymetrix, said in the statement that "the MAQC study clearly shows why GeneChip technology is considered the gold standard in the microarray industry.”
 
While Affy was among the first array firms to use the MAQC results as a springboard for reviving interest in its gene-expression array portfolio, the company was shadowed by Illumina, which launched its “switch to i” campaign that same week.
 
But instead of singling out portions of the study to tout the performance of its chips, Illumina has chosen to compete where it sees its strength: pricing.
 
“The results of the MAQC basically say that there is good correlation across all platforms,” Shawn Baker, Illumina’s gene expression scientific product manager, told BioArray News during IBC Life Sciences’ Discovery 2 Diagnostics conference held here last week.  “So all things being equal, we think that they key factor is actually going to be value,” he said.
 
With that in mind, Illumina kicked off a campaign to encourage users to switch to its platform, using the firm’s lower-priced arrays in the perspective of the MAQC results to attract new clients. As part of the campaign, the company launched http://www.switchtoi.com/, which contains, among other tools, a cost-comparison calculator for users to determine how much a study costs on Illumina’s platform versus a competing platform.
 
Even non-array firms are using MAQC data in their marketing efforts. Stratagene, which provided the reference RNA for the study, used the results to publicize its involvement in the project. Solexa, a sequencing firm, referenced the project during a workshop at D2D last week.
 
“Once the data became public on Sept. 8, we were free to use it as a resource to compare the gene expression we can create with our sequencer to array and RT-PCR data,” Gary Schroth, Solexa’s director of gene expression applications R&D, told BioArray News this week.
 
“One of the toughest things for us to address about a system like ours is, ‘Are we getting the right answer?’” Schroth said. “But that’s what the [MAQC] data allows us to do. It helps us validate the quality of our results,” he said.
 
For MAQC leaders like Richard Shippy, a co-author on the MAQC papers and is a scientist in GE Healthcare’s CodeLink unit, the question of how to use the independent MAQC study to sell the CodeLink platform has been a conundrum.
 
“Within the 67 pages of the Nature Biotechnology articles there is quite a bit of information for users to digest. Each platform performed well, and each platform has its particular advantages and disadvantages,” he told BioArray News this week.
 

Even non-array firms are using MAQC data in their marketing efforts.

But at D2D, Shippy used the MAQC study to highlight GE’s array technology. He said that CodeLink’s particular strength, as demonstrated by the MAQC results, is in its “high level of detection sensitivity, which is substantiated in all five of the Nature Biotechnology articles featuring CodeLink.”
 
He highlighted findings showing that CodeLink detected “30 percent more genes relative to the other commercial microarray platforms,” and that the CodeLink platform “detects as much as 60 percent more genes relative to the other commercial microarray platforms for lower expressed genes which have been validated using Taqman.”
 
“It is my belief that these findings, regarding this high level of detection sensitivity, are a manifestation of where CodeLink has allocated its resources over the last seven years I have been with the organization,” he added.
 
In fact, according to Shippy, what the MAQC results really reveal about each platform is where each vendor has put its resources over the years — be it algorithms or detection chemistry. He also said that, since some companies were publicizing their MAQC performance, it made sense that others “speak up.”
 

“It’s OK for different companies to speak up via press releases as long as the information is accurately represented and can be substantiated by the publications,” Shippy said.

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