Maine Manufacturing has obtained exclusive rights from GE to commercialize the FAST Protein Array product line, and is close to securing follow-on funding from the National Science Foundation to develop a new microarray surface, according to company officials.
The FAST product line was developed at Schleicher & Schuell Bioscience. It became a Whatman product line after Whatman acquired S&S in 2006, and then a GE product line when GE acquired Whatman in 2008 (BAN 11/4/2008).
The portfolio includes the nitrocellulose-coated FAST slide, which has been used in protein array applications. It also includes FAST Quant micro enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay arrays, the Serum Biomarker Chip for cancer-related biomarker screening, other array accessories, and a microarray assay development service.
When GE decided to relocate its Maine operations overseas in 2010, it transferred its array manufacturing resources in Sanford, Maine, to Maine Manufacturing, which took over the facility. The company has continued to supply and support FAST products, but GE still sold the portfolio through its sales channels. That changed recently when GE handed Maine the rights to commercialize the FAST products in return for an undisclosed royalty rate.
Bill Emhiser, president of Maine Manufacturing, told BioArray News that his firm entered into a contract manufacturing arrangement with GE years ago, but because Maine Manufacturing "retained the knowhow" it became "difficult " for GE to update the product line and support customers.
"Plus [GE] has such a broad portfolio … and the protein array product line is pretty targeted and fairly narrow, so it made sense for both of the companies for them to transfer the commercial aspects back to us," he said.
Though Maine Manufacturing is now selling all of its products directly, it does also benefit from its association with GE, according to John Tonkinson, vice president of sales and marketing at the company.
"When I go out to talk to new customers for new development projects and product lines, the GE relationship gives us a tremendous amount of credibility," Tonkinson told BioArray News. "When we go out to talk about our capabilities, it is easy to have the credibility that we need to get new business."
Michael Harvey, Maine Manufacturing's chief science officer, said that the company will now focus on restoring the FAST portfolio's brand recognition in the marketplace by attempting to win back longtime customers who may have adopted other manufacturers' slides in recent years, as well as work with new clients.
"The brand has a tremendous amount of value," Harvey told
"The rebranding is about the improved manufacturing, the customer service, the applications focus," said Harvey, as well as "putting marketing efforts behind the product line, reinitiating customers that used to use the FAST brand that may have gone on to other brands, and [working with] new customers that are not aware that the product line has been around for as long as it has and is widely used as it is," he said.
Emhiser said that 120 employees currently work in Maine Manufacturing's 90,000-square-foot facility in Sanford. The privately held firm has been "cashflow positive since day one" and has "very healthy financials," he said. The company maintains its own sales force, as well as a network of distributors.
Maine focuses on more than just arrays. According to its website, the company also manufactures "precision-molded plastic, filtration, membrane, and biological technologies," and works with partners to "conceptualize, develop, and manufacture products that are used for biological analysis and molecular reactions."
One area of growth has been demand from third parties for reverse-phase protein arrays. Emhiser said that FAST slides are suited for such arrays as they are manufactured in an automated process, which reduces variability from slide to slide. He said that the firm has been making reverse-phase protein arrays for "content providers" that sell them to end users, some of them doing translational medical research.
"I think the biggest area of growth is in reverse-phase arrays and other … diagnostic applications — though that does not necessarily mean a clinical diagnostic, but … more in translational medicine, pushing toward the clinic in some form," said Emhiser.
Maine Manufacturing has a number of competitors for each of its offerings. Several companies manufacture arrays, including Tempe, Ariz.-based Applied Microarrays, which bought GE Healthcare's Codelink bioarray business in 2007. Berlin-based Scienion also offers OEM services. Most tool vendors have reported a rise in demand for preprinted custom protein arrays and related hardware and accessories in recent years (BAN 6/1/2011).
A number of companies also provide nitrocellulose-coated slides, including Schott, Grace Bio-Labs, Courtagen, and Arrayit.
While Maine Manufacturing looks to revive its FAST array business, it is also developing a next-generation surface that could find clinical use.
Last year it secured a $150,000 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research award from NSF to develop a "composite surface" that combines nitrocellulose membranes and track-etched membranes (BAN 1/4/2011).
Harvey said that Maine hopes to secure a Phase II award by midyear to continue developing the new surface.
Nitrocellulose membranes are favored for protein array use. Track-etched membranes are "thin films" with "defined pores that are optically transparent," meaning that they are compatible with light-based detection techniques, such as fluorescence.
"We have tried to … combine the protein-binding capabilities of nitrocellulose with the optical qualities of track-etched membranes," said Harvey. Such a surface would be able to detect rare biomolecules that may be involved in cellular regulation, cellular differentiation, and disease mechanisms, he said.
Emhiser said that the new surface could be made available in formats other than traditional microscope slides. "By combining these materials, we will have more flexibility in formats," said Emhiser. "We can convert the surface onto other types of devices," he said.
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