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Jackson Lab Spin-Off Bar Harbor BioTech To Debut qPCR Array Product Line in October

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Bar Harbor Biotechnology, a 1-year-old company based in Trenton, Maine, last week closed a ‘multi-million’-dollar round of series A financing that it will use to debut on the market Oct. 1 with not one product but with a whole suite of gene expression-related products, including quantitative-PCR arrays and bioinformatics, created by and licensed from the nearby Jackson Laboratory.
 
While the products Bar Harbor will market will be sold in 96-well and 384-well plates and are not microarrays per se, the firm is strongly advocating that the array-using gene expression community will benefit from using its qPCR array plates, rather than more microarrays, to validate their gene expression data.
 
Leading last week’s investment round was Borealis Ventures, a seed capital company based in Hanover, NH, that focuses on New England startups. Village Ventures, an early-stage investment specialist based in Williamstown, Mass., also contributed to the round.
 
Bar Harbor Biotech CEO Robert Phelps this week declined to discuss how much money the firm has accumulated to date, but described the firm’s financing as consisting of “financing by employees, family, friends, and venture capitalists” like Borealis Ventures and Village Ventures, as well as a seed grant from the Maine Technology Institute. While the Jackson Laboratory — which employs nearly 1,300 and had operating revenue of $137 million in 2005 — provided the foundational research to Bar Harbor Biotech for its products, the well-endowed non-profit has not contributed to Bar Harbor’s financing.
 
The Jackson Lab does however have a stake in the company. “The IP for [our] Global Pattern Recognition algorithm and the copy number system for the arrays was developed by the scientists of Bar Harbor Biotechnology while they were employed at The Jackson Laboratory,” Phelps wrote in an e-mail to BioArray News
 
“So the patents are owned by The Jackson Laboratory. Bar Harbor BioTechnology has an exclusive license agreement to market and sell [the inventions] as a products.  In return, the Jackson Laboratory has an equity share of a non-disclosed amount of Bar Harbor Biotechnology,” he wrote.
 
The Perfect Circle
 
The money Bar Harbor Biotech has raised will now mostly be used to support several product launches — the debut of its product line in October, followed by a second, related product launch in early 2008. In the case of the October product launch, Bar Harbor will debut a suite of three interconnected products for gene expression validation that the firm has dubbed the ‘Perfect Circle.’
 
The central platform in the Perfect Circle suite is Bar Harbor’s StellArray Gene Expression/CNV System, which the firm describes as a “pre-manufactured standard plate loaded with oligonucleotide primers” that are “applicable for gene expression as well as gene copy number analyses.” According to Phelps, scientists can use their own qPCR instruments to analyze the plates which will “not only allow researchers to quantitate gene expression but also measure genomic copy number in one homogeneous reaction.”
 
In addition to StellArray plates, Bar Harbor will offer its GeneSieve Bioinformatics tool that will enable users that are designing an experiment to trawl through publicly available databases to reports useful relationships in gene expression as well as indicates chromosomal location. In general, GeneSieve is described as an “interface to perform gene expression and gene profiling analysis.”
 
Finally, the firm offers a third tool, its Global Pattern Recognition algorithm, which takes the qPCR data from a user’s experiment and “generates a ranked hit list of statistically significant changes between the test groups without reliance on the magnitude of the fold-change.”
 
According to Phelps, the target customers for the Perfect Circle suite of products are researchers using microarrays for gene expression studies. Though inter-platform concordance is still an issue in the array community, Phelps wrote that it should be “seamless” for an array user to use StellArray plates, rather than more gene expression assays, to validate their data.
 
 “Currently, if you complete your microarray experiments, your biostatistician would give you a ‘hit’ list of genes. You would then either go through the trouble of developing your own gene expression assays to validate those ‘hits’, or pay someone else to do that,” he wrote. “All of this is [currently] being done with real-time PCR. Our products are exactly that,” he added.
 

“From a strategic point of view, it is unique to have all these products gathered in one location and interrelated.”

Phelps wrote that array users can also upload their data into Global Pattern Recognition and get a “more complete” hit list of genes. Additionally, he wrote that users will not need to purchase any new instrumentation “since our plates will run on a real-time PCR instrument that most labs have access to already.” Phelps added that this would be attractive to academic researchers in light of tightening National Institutes of Health funding opportunities in recent years.
 
Plates and More Plates
 
When Bar Harbor goes live with its sales Oct. 1 it will also be releasing several organism- and condition-specific plates as part of its StellArray line. According to Phelps, Bar Harbor’s initial line of plates will focus on human “cancer, immunology, metabolism, neurology, and embryo development.” All the content for the plates was developed and wet-lab tested at Bar Harbor’s facilities. While the firm has a service offering included in its long-term business plan, it will primarily be a “product-focused commercial venture, with near-term plans to broaden our product mix and target market over time,” wrote Phelps.
 
The target market remains wide, Phelps wrote, and could “range from small/low throughput labs to large/high throughput institutions” at “academic, government, commercial and non-profit organizations.” To follow-on the October launch, a smaller-scale product launch is planned for January 2008 that will feature an “expanded repertoire of qPCR arrays for mouse research, as well as an expansion into other organisms.”
 
To support the October roll-out, the Maine start-up will “be relying on web sales and e-marketing”. However, Phelps wrote that the firm does “have plans to add more sales staff before our second product launch that is scheduled for January 2008.” For customer support, Bar Harbor currently has scientists staffed in the company to give webinars, create technical resources, and answer any technical questions that its customers may have, he added.
 
While Phelps describes his company’s offering as unique, it will face competition in the marketplace, perhaps most directly from High Throughput Genomics, a Tucson, Ariz.-based firm that similarly sells 96- and 384-well “arrays” for quantitative PCR gene expression. The firm also offers plates for stem cell, cancer, nuclear receptors, and metabolism-oriented research, as well as an imaging system, and a bioinformatics tool called FireFly.
 
While Bar Harbor and HTG sell similar technology, Phelps wrote that his firm could draw on the strength of each pillar of its Perfect Circle suite to distinguish itself in the marketplace. “This suite of bioinformatics, qPCR arrays, and bioanalysis products are unique for a few reasons,” he wrote, but from a “strategic point of view, it is unique to have all these products gathered in one location and interrelated, making it more seamless for researchers to complete their experiments.”
 

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