Jivan Biologics, a 5-year-old array company based in Berkeley, Calif., threw its hat in the emerging splice-variant array market last week by simultaneously launching 14 separate arrays — 10 of which are for individual gene families — all for use on the Agilent platform.
The only hitch is that Jivan does not have the right to resell Agilent chips, according to a person familiar with the business. This person asked to remain anonymous because of their high-level position at a competing company.
John Jaskowiak, manager of Agilent's certified service provider program, said the company has "a custom microarray supply and services agreement in place to manufacture microarray designs for Jivan Biologics."
Jaskowiak said Jivan had the right to sell the content on the arrays as a service, similar to an offering provided by ExonHit Therapeutics, but that he was "not aware that they have specific rights to sell actual arrays."
Jonathan Bingham, a spokesperson for Jivan, said the company had recently switched from a service model, where it had run experiments based on Telechem's ArrayIt platform, to a product model, where it could sell catalogue arrays.
Bingham told BioArray News that Jivan was aware of the contract issues and that "all the details are in the works."
"We're not selling Agilent arrays," he explained. "We're selling content plus arrays."
Jaskowiak said that Agilent would be engaging Jivan to better understand their new business model and to clear up the confusion.
Jivan's step is significant in the nascent splice array market. The launch of the company's new products, called TransExpress, marks the first time this type of array has been made available in a pre-spotted format, as opposed to a service. The launch also signals the emergence of new player into a market that includes French pharmaceutical company ExonHit, which offers alternative splicing arrays through a services offering, and Affymetrix, which plans to offer its own line of pre-spotted exon arrays by the end of the year (see BAN 4/27/2005).
"This is going to be a hot area, and we wanted to be first," explained Bingham of the decision to launch 14 arrays simultaneously. "We saw no reason to hold back. We have been working on this stuff for four years."
According to Bingham, "this stuff" includes splice arrays for G-protein coupled receptors, ion channels, kinases, phosphodiesterases, cytochrome p450, phosphatases, proteases and proteinases, ATP-binding cassette transporters and solute carriers — all gene families of interest to researchers at various points in the drug development pipeline.
In addition, Jivan has launched the TransExpress Whole Spliceome Array, actually four separate arrays, which will enable researchers to study splice variants across the human genome. Jivan has also launched TransExpress Toxicology, a splice variant chip for use in toxicological studies, TransExpress Cell Surface, for cell signaling, and TransExpress Whole Blood, which Bingham singled out as the "flagship" of the company's 14-product portfolio.
The Whole Blood chip covers splice variants for the 2,000 genes that are expressed in blood, and will be useful for identifying clinical biomarkers, Bingham said.
Jivan is charging $650 per array for the gene family suite, according to Bingham. "They come on two slides. You can do two separate hybridizations apiece," he said.
The TransExpress Whole Blood is $1,500 per array, while the TransExpress Spliceome is the most costly of the company's product line, at $3,995. Bingham said that because the technology is on four arrays, it is more expensive, but that the cost will come down as the company is able to move the technology to two arrays or even one.
Not a Niche Market
Central to Jivan's loud entry to the market is the belief, according to Bingham, that within the next five years splice arrays will become the array of choice for researchers involved in drug development, and that today's whole-genome arrays will become "obsolete."
"This is a complete replacement for the GeneChip market. Affymetrix knows this, Agilent knows this, and this is coming within the next few years," Bingham said.
Affymetrix has shown a commitment to the new splice array market, and will launch its exon arrays by the fourth quarter, according to the company.
During a presentation at the Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference in San Francisco in April, John Blume, Affymetrix's vice president of expression research, said that the company would release human, mouse, and rat exon arrays by the end of the year.
"It's the transcriptome expression, not the gene expression," Blume said during his presentation.
The emergence of another company in the splice variant array market — especially one based on the Agilent platform — shows that it may be a matter of time before that company enters the fray.
Agilent also manufactures arrays for ExonHit's SpliceArray service, launched last February (see BAN 2/9/2005).
Bingham said the company's arrays use Agilent chemistry, are read with Agilent's scanner, and are analyzed with Agilent's software.
So far, ExonHit has rolled out its service for ion channel, G-protein coupled receptor, and nuclear receptor and co-regulator gene families and apoptosis. According to a spokesperson for ExonHit, the company will launch a service for cytokines this summer, and plans a whole-genome mouse splice array later this year.
Like Jivan, ExonHit also envisions that splice arrays will displace gene arrays in the future.
"We believe microarrays with splicing content will ultimately displace the current generation of microarrays. The fact that all these players are moving into the market is validation of our view," a spokesperson for ExonHit wrote in an e-mail to BioArray News.
While ExonHit did not provide a market estimate, the company considers itself to be the player to beat in the emerging market.
"We think that we have most, if not all, the market share" of the splice array market," the spokesperson said.
Jivan, which was founded in 2000 to provide array services for drug-discovery companies, this year switched to the pre-fabricated product business because of "greater volume," Bingham said.
Bingham said that Jivan had developed a prototype kinase array with Pharmacia subsidiary Sugen in 2002 as part of a Small Business Innovation Research grant that company was awarded to develop kinase inhibitors. Sugen was later absorbed by Pfizer when the drug giant bought Pharmacia in April 2003.
Bingham added that the company, now operating with fewer than 20 people, is actively looking for greater distribution networks to sell its new product line.
"We are currently doing sales ourselves and we are actively looking now to get listed in catalogs and to come up with distribution arrangements with that," he said.
— Justin Petrone ([email protected])