When it comes to the microarray market, much of the emphasis is often on density, like the upcoming 1-million SNP whole-genome genotyping chips touted by Illumina and Affymetrix, or on emerging applications like the miRNA arrays marketed by Exiqon, Invitrogen, and CombiMatrix.
One frequently overlooked component of the marketplace, however, is the open-platform microarray scanner, and imaging company Vidar Systems hopes to capitalize on this by selling a newly developed system.
Winston Wong, director of Vidar’s microarray scanner business, told BioArray News this week that the company has begun shipping the tool, called the Revolution 4200, to its first customers. The Herndon, Va.-based firm also plans to distribute supplementary products that are due out later this year.
Though he declined to name Vidar’s clients, Wong said the company is targeting “those labs across academic, government, pharma, and diagnostics that still have a need for a basic scanner to go along with their chip formats.”
Wong said that the “academic market would be the most obvious place we would start,” adding that the firm would next target the molecular diagnostic and pharmacogenomic markets.
Vidar began selling the Revolution 4200 microarray scanning system this month. The $40,000 benchtop unit supports two-color microarray experiments and can scan four arrays at a time using Vidar’s patented rotational optic design. The company said this enables researchers to perform gene-expression profiling, comparative genomic hybridization, genotyping, and protein array analysis.
The company has also launched a software package called ArraySifter, which Wong described as capable of doing “basic image acquisition and analysis,” to support the Revolution 4200.
To support the rollout of the Revolution 4200, Vidar is building its sales, support, and R&D teams. Wong said that the firm currently employs approximately 12 people in its scanner business and is looking to hire about six more people by the end of this year. The company also has additional products in the pipeline, including a 50-chip autoloader option that will be introduced in the second quarter.
The autoloader “is for high-throughput or more automated throughput because people don’t want to stand in front of their scanner loading it chip by chip,” Wong said.
Wong said that Vidar, which specializes in digital radiography instruments and other medical imaging products, was enticed into the array scanner market when it realized that a lower-priced instrument could find a home in the flat market.
“We believe that our core competencies in imaging, quality manufacturing, and price competitiveness can better address the existing needs of the life science imaging market,” Wong said.
While pricing varies, most high-end scanners cost around $70,000. Wong said that Vidar is trying to take market share from these companies, such as Molecular Devices and PerkinElmer, by selling the Revolution 2400 for $40,000.
“We spoke with many array users, in particular core facilities,” he added. “Many users indicated that the current technology offering has been out for awhile now and there has been a lack of innovation of new products, quality support, and affordability,” Wong said.
“The combination of these market traits has left users without any viable alternatives to date. We believe that our products and dedication to excellent customer service will provide an attractive alternative that is needed,” he added.
In addition to seeing an opening for a newer scanner, Vidar recognized that companies selling scanners needed to address the growing number of applications in the array industry.
“The biggest need that people see is that, although you have a need for a core microarray scanner, you have additional applications, like protein and CGH arrays, and those applications require special hardware specifications that currently aren’t being met,” Wong said. “We can do protein arrays, CGH arrays, tissue arrays. We are not limited by application.”
“Many users indicated that the current technology offering has been out for awhile now and there has been a lack of innovation of new products, quality support, and affordability.”
The Competition Concurs
Wong’s assessment of the market is shared by others selling scanners, like Alpha Innotech, which sells two scanners: AlphaScan, a compact array scanner similar to the Revolution 4200, and NovaRay, a microplate reader.
Sia Ghazvini, Alpha Innotech’s vice president of business development, told BioArray News this week that there is a “trend away from basic arrays and towards other applications for proteins, carbohydrates, and cell-based applications, as well as innovative assay designs that use different dyes and surface chemistries.” According to Ghazvini, this is where the current market opportunity lies.
He added that Alpha Innotech believes that its products, which were launched in summer 2005, are “solid products” that were designed with newer applications in mind.
Another company selling into the scanner market is TeleChem International, which offers its Microarray SpotWare Colorimetric Scanner for $26,000, a price point that company spokesperson Paul Haje said reflected the needs of the marketplace.
“Everybody is chasing an open platform scanner in the sub-$30,000 price range,” Haje told BioArray News this week. “With all the pre-made content out there, scanning is the thing that everybody eventually needs to do. And everybody wants a scanner like the one they have that they use for scanning their own personal documents because with your own personal scanner, you can build a career,” he said.
Haje added that, while it gets less attention than other segments of the microarray market, the scanner market is reliable and growing. He said that TeleChem believes it will sell approximately 1,200 scanners over the next few years.