After two years of selling chromatin immunoprecipitation kits to the epigenetics research market, Millipore last week said it signed a partnership with Agilent Technologies that will enable it to begin selling arrays and kits for ChIP-on-chip by the middle of next year.
Under the terms of the agreement, Millipore will pair its existing ChIP kits, reagents, and antibodies with Agilent’s arrays and data-analysis solutions. The goal is to improve “scientific workflows for epigenetic researchers” in order to “minimize the barriers of entry into chromatin state mapping, readily obtain reproducible genomic profiling data, and overcome the traditional challenges of ChIP assays," Millipore said in a statement.
Billerica, Mass.-based Millipore began selling ChIP kits in 2006 after paying $1.4 billion to acquire Serologicals. That buy also gave Millipore Upstate, a Dundee, UK-based shop with a portfolio of ChIP kits, reagents, and antibodies. Serologicals bought the firm in 2005.
According to Millipore officials, working with Agilent will enable it to expand its ChIP products to reach customers interested in moving their studies onto arrays.
“To date we hadn’t been playing in the array arena,” John Archdeacon, Millipore’s director of R&D, told BioArray News this week. “To offer a fully comprehensive product line, arrays were something we wanted to get into.
“We identified Agilent as a partner to work with in this area, as they already had established themselves as one of the leaders in the [ChIP-on-chip] market and they have offerings that we wanted to access and provide to our customers,” Archdeacon said.
Millipore said it plans to introduce optimized ChIP kits, including Agilent-manufactured arrays, by the second quarter of 2009. The company will sell products for performing ChIP on an Agilent array, and a kit containing reagents for performing ChIP on a “generic” array of the customer’s choosing. Millipore will sell and market the kits, and Agilent may take on a technical support role for troubleshooting difficulties related to its array platform. Pricing for the new products is yet to be determined.
“The way we look at it, we will be the first face to customer and we will support them, but we are not the expert in arrays that Agilent is,” Sallie Cassel, Millipore’s director of marketing, told BioArray News this week. “They will back us up if we have any tricky array related questions, but our aim is to make everything easier for the customer.”
Archdeacon said that many customers currently assemble their ChIP assays by “pulling reagents from one place and arrays from another place,” resulting in a homebrew assay that takes time and money to optimize, and restricting the growth of what Millipore believes could be a dynamic market.
Cassel said that expanding Millipore’s ChIP business to include arrays is the “obvious next step for those doing ChIP that want to do it on a large scale.”
“Over time, ChIP has become user-friendly, and a lot more people are using the kits. I think it is a logical extension to take it into the microarray arena.”
She said that the market for ChIP-on-chip is widely considered to be less dynamic than other array-based application areas such as comparative genomic hybridization, and one of the challenges keeping the market from achieving higher growth is the availability of optimized kits and reagents for ChIP experiments.
In some ways, Millipore views the potential for its ChIP array kits from the perspective of a company that has been selling ChIP kits for several years. Archdeacon noted that, as an application, ChIP, which enables researchers to identify where DNA-binding proteins exist on a genome-wide basis, did not take off as an application until its “struggling protocols” were replaced by optimized kits.
“Over time, ChIP has become user-friendly, and a lot more people are using the kits,” he said. “I think it is a logical extension to take it into the microarray arena.”
Cassel pointed out that the traditional market for ChIP-on-chip studies has expanded from what she called “histone enthusiasts,” to today’s applications, which include researchers that wish to apply a “systems approach” to studying stem cells, cancer, and neurological functions.
“When you talk about market growth, there is an influx of areas of science that want to look at these techniques,” Cassel said. “At the same time, these researchers don’t want to spend a lot of time optimizing their assays. They want an answer; they want someone to give them a method that works, get in, and get out.”
Agilent Chips In
Helping Millipore reach its goals will be Agilent, which holds a similar opinion of the ChIP-on-chip market. Rini Saxena, product manager for Agilent’s methylation and ChIP business, told BioArray News last week that epigenetics is “still a quickly growing field” that boasts a diverse group of leading researchers, such as Bryan Dynlacht, the director of the genomics program at the New York University Cancer Institute, and Rick Young, a principal investigator at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
“These researchers have different focuses, from understanding cell-signaling pathways to understanding global regulatory circuitry in model organisms, stem cells, or cancers,” Saxena said. She added that DNA methylation is a “fast-growing area in epigenetics, mainly in cancer and development fields in which arrays and antibody methods are increasingly gaining adoption.”
Agilent began selling ChIP-on-chip arrays after acquiring Computational Biology Corporation in 2005 for an undisclosed sum. Since then, the firm’s ChIP-on-chip menu has grown to include arrays for human CpG island, human ENCODE, human- and mouse-promoter studies, and whole-genome arrays for Arabidopsis, C. elegans, Drosophila, S. pombe, yeast, and zebrafish promoter studies. Agilent also sells custom ChIP-on-chip arrays .
According to Saxena, Agilent’s deal with Millipore has at its core the idea of combining Millipore’s kits with Agilent’s array catalog and expertise. The agreement includes a worldwide, non-exclusive license to Agilent’s ChIP-on-chip technology, including applications for histone and DNA methylation, and the original manufacture of Agilent’s ChIP-on-chip and methylation microarrays for Millipore kits. The DNA-methylation offering would apply only to applications that use an antibody for methylated DNA pull-down, she said.
Under the terms of the agreement, Agilent will provide initial R&D scientific support and training to enable Millipore to optimize the Millipore kit development on its platform, Saxena said. Afterwards, Millipore will purchase Agilent arrays to re-sell through their ChIP-on-chip kits. Millipore will work with Agilent to optimize the ChIP-on-chip kit on Agilent’s microarray platform, promote the Agilent-specific kit, and provide primary support starting three months after the kit lands on the market, she said.
Agilent said the deal will give it the opportunity to sell its arrays via Millipore's kits to additional customers in a market that includes array-based offerings from companies like Roche NimbleGen and Affymetrix, and from service firms like Genpathway. The market also includes rival technologies such as Illumina’s ChIP-Seq application, which is performed on the firm’s second-generation sequencer, the Genome Analyzer.
“Millipore makes sample prep material, and does not make arrays,” she said. “We make the array component of the kits. This agreement gives both parties the full, end-to-end solution.”