Infineon Technologies of Munich last week rolled out its optical biochip product line, produced in collaboration with MetriGenix of Gaithersburg, Md.
Infineon, a spinoff of Siemens, uses its manufacturing processes to create a novel three-dimensional substrate to which MetriGenix adds biochemistry and technology that both companies market as the “Flow-Thru” Chip.
The new product reflects an emerging trend among semiconductor makers who are adding life science skills to core manufacturing capabilities to produce microarrays. Intel and the Taiwan semiconductor industry have already begun similar initiatives.
Infineon and MetriGenix are targeting the drug discovery market with this system, and positioning it as complementary to industrial-strength gene expression profiling systems such as those produced by Affymetrix, Agilent, and Amersham.
“This is not a discovery tool, but a screening tool,” Hans-Christian Hanke, Infineon’s director of marketing for biochips, told BioArray News. “We see this going into the discovery process after a high-density application, like Affymetrix has been used, to screen for a specialized set of known genes that are important for a given disease.”
The system is packaged in two units, a hybridization station and a detector unit, which can service multiple hyb stations, according to a MetriGenix spokesperson. In marketing to big pharma, the company hopes to sell numerous hybridization stations for each detector, and then have scientists process their chips at a detector in a company’s core facility.
Each chip is a square centimeter in size with some 1 million “pores” etched into it. Known gene probes are attached to the inner walls of the pores, and samples flow through the chip channels. About 200 separate gene probes fit into a chip, which is seated in a cartridge.
Because sample material is flowed through the chip’s channels, hybridization is compressed into a two- or three-hour process, followed by a dye bath that produces luminescence when genes match up. A charge-coupled device camera captures the light pattern, which is then read by the system’s computer.
The three-dimensional design of the chip creates more surface area for probes as compared to similar-sized planar surfaces, and that increases binding capacity, said Hanke. “Its sensitivity is comparable to other systems,” he added.
The Flow-Through Chip system will sell for approximately €60,000 ($64,000). Infineon will sell it in Europe and MetriGenix will market it in the US. In Europe, the chips will sell at a suggested list price of €150-€250 ($160-$267).
The company will sell kits of 10 chips and chemistry for specific diseases including inflammation, cancer (breast and lung), and neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Chips can also be created for specific genes.
MetriGenix, a spinoff of Gene Logic, provides the 60-mer oligonucleotide probes that attach to the pores. Content can be based on the company’s proprietary sequence data, public data, or third-party data.
Investing in a Collaboration
The two companies are allied by more than just a shared interest in a technology. Infineon holds an equity stake in Gaithersburg, Md.-based MetriGenix. The relationship started as both companies were discussing a collaboration based on their respective technologies, and then Infineon’s VC group stepped in to make an investment in MetrixGenix.
Infineon is also developing an electronic chip independently from MetriGenix, which Hanke said is in the late stages of development.
In the future, Infineon has hopes of selling the Flow-Thru Chip as a diagnostic tool. Hanke said chip prices would have to dramatically drop for this, or any biochip, to gain any kind of sales in the diagnostic market. That would mean volume product, a prospect that Infineon welcomes.
“We feel like we are in a comfortable position with that — we can create products in a high volume,” Hanke said.
Infineon expects revenues in the range of €1 million to €2 million for the year for the product.