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Metrigenix and Neuralstem to Co-Develop Stem Cell-based CNS Flow-Thru Microarrays

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Gene Logic spinoff Metrigenix has inked its first deal, saying it would work with central nervous system stem cell company Neuralstem to co-develop microarrays to study gene expression in the central nervous system.

Metrigenix will provide its Flow-thru Chip technology, while privately held Neuralstem, of College Park, Md., will contribute the content. These low-density oligonucleotide arrays, which the companies are calling Neurochips, will include between 20 and 50 genes selected from differentiated neural stem cells that Neuralstem provides, and not more than 100, the companies said. Additionally, Neuralstem will provide its stem cells to researchers using the arrays.

The deal “gives us a real proprietary entrance into content that, combined with the neural stem cells, will put us in a very good position to supply a good solution to clients,” said Andrew O’ Beirne, CEO of Metrigenix.

The companies will market the chips and cells to all pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies engaged in CNS-related research, especially that involving testing of pharmaceutical compounds for CNS toxicity, said Richard Garr, CEO of Neuralstem.

Neuralstem’s “cells will be used as the model system where we’ll identify potential drug targets or toxic markers,” explained O’Beirne. “Then the client will [add] a compound to the cells and extract nuclear material, [and] run this material against the chip to determine whether the compound produces CNS toxicity.”

Metrigenix’s chips consist of a three-dimensional silicon substrate with vertical microchannels designed to allow fluid to flow through the chip. Labeled oligonucleotides located along these microchannels serve as capture probes, hybridizing to the expressed genes in the sample as it flows through the channel. A microfluidics pumping mechanism within the chip controls fluid flow.

Metrigenix has said that the honeycomb platform offers faster hybridization as well as greater surface area, which increases sensitivity.

The flow-thru chips are also designed to be inexpensive. Metrigenix and Neuralstem are currently in discussions on the price of the Neurochip and cells.

This deal follows an ongoing collaboration between Gene Logic, of Gaithersburg, Md., and Neuralstem, in which Neuralstem purchased access to Gene Logic’s database and Gene Logic obtained Neuralstem’s stem cells in order to mine them for gene content to include in the database.

Last month, Gene Logic announced it had raised $15 million to spin out Metrigenix as a 54 percent-owned subsidiary. At the time, the company said Metrigenix would market the Flow-thru Chip as a custom and pre-fabricated gene-based screening array to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and other life-sciences companies. The company is marketing these arrays as a tool for the more focused gene expression screens that researchers need to do after they have isolated a group of relevant genes using high-density arrays such as Affymetrix GeneChips.

Oxford Bioscience Partners, Burrill Biotechnology Capital Fund, GE Capital Equity, and Infineon Ventures, the financing arm of German semiconductor company Infineon, have all invested in Metrigenix.

— MMJ

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