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Incyte Exits Microarray Business: Agilent Seeks to Fill Void with Incyte-Based Arrays

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Incyte pulled the plug on its ailing LifeArray business last Thursday, once more narrowing the field of competitors in the microarray sector following Corning’s exit the previous week.

For many Incyte employees, this period of transition means a potential job loss, with about 100 among the 400 scheduled layoffs to come from the microarray services area, BioArray News learned when the news broke during the Genome Sequencing and Analysis Conference (GSAC) last week in San Diego. The company has not sorted out further details as to how it will sell off the intellectual and physical property from the microarray and other functional genomics businesses, Incyte sources have said.

For Agilent and Motorola, Incyte’s loss is a potential gain.

Both companies manufacture 10,000-spot glass slide arrays using Incyte’s content, so they are the natural inheritors of Incyte’s customer base.

While Affymetrix also stands to benefit, every Incyte LifeArray customer who does the hybridizations has already purchased a $50,000 Axon scanner or the equivalent, and can’t switch to Affymetrix without investing in an entirely new set of scanning, hybridization, and analysis equipment.

Agilent has stepped most aggressively into this void, capitalizing on an existing strong relationship with Incyte to license additional content and expand its cDNA array offerings.

In September, as it anticipated Incyte’s shift away from making arrays, the company moved to license the full range of content from Incyte’s LifeSeq database and its portfolio of 600 patented genes.

“The license to Incyte’s patents gives us the IP muscle to operate in the microarray market,” said Agilent spokesperson Doug Forsyth.

This week, Agilent flexed this muscle, introducing the Human 2 cDNA Microarray Kit, a new cDNA array representing over than 14,000 probes from Incyte’s Human Foundation one and two clone sets. This chip, along with Agilent’s Human 1 cDNA microarray, gives researchers access to over 25,000 human sequences in a pre-packaged array format, and begins to replace Incyte’s set of six Human Foundation Life Arrays, which was to offer a total of approximately 54,000 genes and ESTs, including sequence only available on its database.

At the same time, Agilent announced it was collaborating with Paradigm Genetics, a former Technology Access Program customer, to commercialize the first whole Arabidopsis thaliana genome microarray. The companies are designing the array with all the genes necessary to conduct gene expression analysis of Arabidopsis, one of the most widely studied plant genomes, and plan to jointly commercialize the array by the end of the year.

With these new offerings and others on the way, Agilent hopes to move into the number-two position in the microarray arena.

But Motorola, with its increasing lineup of oligo-based arrays, may be stiff competition in this area. The company already has a 10,000-gene human array on the market that combines LifeSeq with UniGene content; as well as a rat ADME (absorption, distribution, metabolism, elimination) chip that can be used in testing toxicology profiles of drug candidates; and a P450 SNP array with 75 different cytochrome P450 SNPs. By the end of the year, Motorola also plans to release a more general 2600-gene SNP array, the company said at the Genome Sequencing and Analysis Conference (GSAC) last week.

Meanwhile, Incyte has told customers tshat it will not accept any orders for LifeArrays, Custom LifeArrays, LifeArray Services, or its T7 amplification service

The company will, however, fulfill existing orders.

— MMJ

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