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Japan's Toray Launches 3D Gene-Expression Arrays, Services in Europe


By Justin Petrone

After years of selling its gene- and microRNA-expression profiling arrays in the Japanese market, Tokyo-based Toray Industries this month expanded its offering to Europe, where it hopes to win over researchers before moving into larger markets in North America and Asia.

Hitoshi Nobumasa, DNA chip group leader at Toray, told BioArray News this week that the firm is now offering its so-called 3D-Gene arrays for whole-genome expression profiling in human, mouse, and rat, as well as microRNA profiling for multiple species. Additionally, Toray manufactures custom arrays and offers array services, Nobumasa said.

Founded in 1926, Toray says its core technologies include organic synthetic chemistry, polymer chemistry, and biotechnology. The firm introduced its 3D-Gene array platform in Japan in 2006, where it was adopted by academics dissatisfied with other offerings, according to the spokesperson (BAN 11/17/2009).

Now, the firm is looking to raise its profile in other markets.

"We understand very well that 3D-Gene needs to obtain a good reputation among researchers prior to starting full-scale business, and feel that the best way to achieve this is through the publication of high quality, peer-reviewed scientific papers," Nobumasa said.

"We have obtained some inquiries from European researchers about using 3D-Gene, and will collaborate with them in the hope of providing them with a high-quality product to aid in the publishing of more scientific papers," he added. "We also plan to establish a strong support system in Europe."

So far, Toray's European endeavor is conducted from a sales office in London in close collaboration with its Tokyo headquarters. The firm hopes that, just as the strength of its technology has given it a strong presence in Japan, it will enable it to play competitively in markets elsewhere dominated by vendors such as Affymetrix, Agilent Technologies, Illumina, and Roche NimbleGen.

"The majority of 3D-Gene customers are academic researchers who were unsatisfied with conventional microarray sensitivity," Nobumasa noted.

While Toray has not yet sold its chips outside of Japan, over the past few years it has sought out foreign customers via its 3D-Gene Competition Award. Through the award program, grant recipients are given 3D-Gene array services plus a research grant of $2,000 to cover sample-preparation costs.

Now that Toray has expanded to actually sell its arrays in Europe, the firm has North America and China on its radar, according to Nobumasa.

"We plan to expand our business in the following order: Japan, then Europe, followed by the US and China," he said. "We fully appreciate that the US occupies almost half of the worldwide market, and we plan to start business in the US after establishing 3D-Gene in Europe."

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According to the firm, its 3D-Gene arrays include several features designed to enhance assay sensitivity and enable users to work with low-abundance targets such as miRNAs, or degraded samples, such as formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue specimens.

Each 3D-Gene chip is constructed of black resin, which Toray claims reduces background fluorescence. Probes are attached to three-dimensional micro-columns on the surface of the arrays. The columns are also surrounded by microbeads that are encapsulated on the chip and can be agitated to ensure homogenous sample distribution during the hybridization process, according to the firm.

These properties "maximize signal-to-noise ratio and increase accuracy, reproducibility and sensitivity," Toray said in a statement. The chips are compatible with most current array scanning methods, and do not require additional investments in instrumentation, the company noted.

When asked this week what distinguished Toray's offering from competitors', Nobumasa cited 3D-Gene's "high" sensitivity, accuracy, and reproducibility when performing mRNA-expression analysis, "accurate quantification" of miRNA results, and its "powerful extraction and analysis protocol for detecting mRNA and miRNA expression in FFPE and blood samples."

In the firm's statement, Toray claimed its 3D-Gene chips are "precise at concentrations as low as 0.1 attomol," an attribute it said will be "especially interesting to those who would like to detect low-abundance mRNA and microRNA targets in human, mice, and rat samples."

It also claims its 3D-Gene chips can distinguish background noise from the low numbers of target molecules typically present in FFPE or serum samples.

Beyond its human, mouse, and rat gene-expression profiling and multispecies miRNA-profiling chips, Toray sells a yeast-expression array and two chips focused on human disease. The first, the 3D-Gene Digestive Cancer 9k Panel, is designed for digestive system cancer research. The second, the 3D-Gene Human Immunity & Metabolic Syndrome 9k Panel, offers users access to approximately 9,000 types of genes related to immunology and metabolic syndromes. Toray scientists described the panel in a Toxicology In Vitro paper last year.

In addition to the sale of catalogue arrays, Toray produces custom 3D-Gene chips, each of which contains up to 25,000 probes. They also provide an array-analysis service, allowing researchers to send samples for analysis by Toray's research team in Japan. All 3D-Gene chips are sold for research purposes.

While the company's products to date have been focused on RNA analysis, there are signs that the company is moving to DNA analysis as well. For instance, a study in the Journal of Biochemistry last year detailed the development of a pharmacokinetically relevant SNP panel.