Invitrogen and Affymetrix announced last week that Invitrogen has obtained a non-exclusive, worldwide license to a number of Affymetrix patents. Invitrogen — which sells protein arrays and microRNA arrays — will now be allowed to manufacture and sell spotted nucleic acid microarrays in the research field, the companies said in statement.
Of Invitrogen's existing array businesses, the licensing deal with Affy will have the most impact on its epigenetics business, which is built upon its NCode multi-species miRNA microarray platform.
According to Amy Butler, vice president of epigenetics at Invitrogen, the licensing deal with Affymetrix is directly related to the NCode array, which the company launched last year (see BAN 11/16/2005).
Affy and Invitrogen discussed the licensing agreement while NCode was being prepped for rollout, Butler told BioArray News this week.
"We had been in negotiations with Affy to put this agreement … in place, with both parties knowing that it would cover this array that we are selling," Butler said.
According to Butler, the licensing deal also reflects the evolution of Invitrogen's interest in the array market, particularly in regards to its epigenetics business, which includes analysis tools for miRNAs, like NCode, and could eventually encompass DNA methylation and location analysis.
"This will allow us to offer future generations of NCode arrays that we have planned."
"Traditionally, Invitrogen has played in the array space, but predominantly focused on providing array-labeling kits that enable researchers that were either printing their own arrays or purchasing commercial arrays to use our tools for the labeling portion of their experiment," Butler said.
"As we moved into the relatively new field of epigenetics, we realized that we wanted to play a more active role in directing the content to our customers," she added.
The agreement with Affy is well-timed when one considers that Invitrogen has pledged to release a second version of the NCode array in Q3.
Peter Joszi, senior product manager of epigenetics at Invitrogen, told BioArray News this month that the company has seen "strong growth" in NCode sales and that version 2.0 of the array — which contains known miRNAs for humans, rat, mouse, and other organisms — will likely become available "at the end of the summer" (see BAN 6/13/2006).
This week, Butler affirmed Invitrogen's interest in NCode, stating that updated versions of the array could be released on a regular basis.
"Most likely that will involve a new release of a new array at least every year, potentially more often," Butler said.
Invitrogen spokesperson Greg Geissman likened the development of NCode to ProtoArray, Invitrogen's line of protein arrays, which are updated on an annual basis.
"As we've developed additional content, we've put out a new release of the chip," Geissman told BioArray News this week.
Invitrogen could launch arrays in other areas of epigenetics for applications such as DNA methylation and location analysis, according to Butler.
"We see the potential benefit of array technology in some of the other epigenetic areas, including to study methylation or to study location analysis, but I would say that it's a possibility," she said.
Butler stressed that the licensing agreement was the result of a close relationship Invitrogen has developed with Affymetrix, and that further licensing deals are possible if the need should arise.
Joszi said this month that one possible scenario that would create a need to license array technology from a company like Affy would be if the large number of miRNAs on future versions of the NCode chip necessitated a high-density array outside of Invitrogen's capabilities. The current version of NCode contains approximately 1,300 miRNAs.
Butler declined to address whether the recently licensed patents from Affy would cover high-density miRNA chips, but said that "there may be additional agreements in the future … with Affy or with other players." Furthermore, she said that the license will allow Invitrogen to build on NCode for the foreseeable future.
"This will allow us to offer future generations of NCode arrays that we have planned," Butler said.
The View from Affymetrix
Affymetrix declined to comment on the licensing deal with Invitrogen, which marks its third such agreement with a major player in the life sciences arena in seven months.
In April, Affy licensed its IP to Abbott Laboratories to enable it to manufacture and sell comparative genomic hybridization microarrays, readers, and software for research and diagnostics (see BAN 4/11/2006).
Last December, Affy licensed an undisclosed number of patents to Applied Biosystems' parent Applera related to the manufacture, sale, and use of microarrays for gene expression analysis.
Within several months of licensing the IP from Affy, both Applera and Abbott dropped oppositions to Affymetrix patents at the European Patent Office (see BAN 5/30/2006).
However, the string of licensing agreements has not encouraged all array companies to follow Applera, Abbott, and Invitrogen's lead.
In May, Bret Undem, CombiMatrix's vice president of business development, told BioArray News that the firm has "no plans to license" IP from Affy and will "continue to oppose" the company's patents through the European Patent Office (see BAN 5/30/2006).