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With Most Protein Array Platforms in R&D, Developing Industry Hasn t Hatched Yet

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By pairing up with Samuel So's Asian Liver Center at Stanford University to research the proteomic basis for liver cancer, Agilent has become one of the first major DNA microarray manufacturers to disclose significant information about its protein array development plans.

However, Agilent is not alone in this growing field, and the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company joins the ranks of others such as CombiMatrix and GE Healthcare that have said publicly that they have protein arrays in R&D but have yet to roll out the details on their new platforms.

CombiMatrix's CEO Amit Kumar first disclosed that the company had a protein array prototype in R&D in February during a conference call discussing the Mulkiteo, Wash.-based company's FY '04 fourth-quarter earnings, and later discussed the technology at length with BioArray News (see BAN 3/2/2005).

Kumar this week said that early-access consumers could expect the protein arrays to be available as soon as the end of this year.

"We are hoping that by the end of this year that the first beta customers will be using these for their own internal applications as well as getting ready to start selling the products," Kumar said. CombiMatrix's protein arrays are "DNA- directed protein arrays," according to Kumar, where CombiMatrix prints DNA on the substrates, and provides protein complements in tubes to users who use them to array their proteins.

"What we are trying to build is a system that is customizable to protein array users or manufacturers," Kumar said. "That's the model for our protein array applications."

Another company that has a protein array in R&D is GE Healthcare, which is developing the chip in its CodeLink unit. A field specialist told attendees at the World Microarray Congress in Vancouver, BC, in March that the company is developing a protein array, and this week a spokesperson for GE Healthcare confirmed that GE "does have a protein array in development and plans to make it commercially available," although the spokesperson could not confirm a timeline for commercialization.

Other array companies like San Diego-based Illumina also have plans to enter the marketplace. Illumina's CEO Jay Flatley told BioArray News this week that Illumina "will commercialize protein assays on its new CyVera platform at a minimum" in the future. Illumina acquired CyVera and its portfolio of bead-based assays in February.

However, Jack Zhai, the microarray manager of Applied Biosystems, said that ABI has no plans at this time to develop or commercialize a protein array.

Affymetrix did not respond to inquiries about any interests it may have in the protein array market by press time.

Arguably the two largest players in the market at the moment are Invitrogen, which has commercialized a line of protein arrays, and Sigma Aldrich, which is selling Procognia's line of functional protein arrays. Both Invitrogen and Sigma Aldrich launched their respective lines of protein arrays at the end of 2004.

Johanna Griffin, a spokesperson for Procognia, told BioArray News this week that there are no accurate estimates on the size of the current market, but "probably the protein array market is going to be bigger than the DNA market. That's the only benchmark [Procognia has] at this point.

"Our personal bias is that the growth will be faster and greater because with DNA arrays you get only limited amounts of information. With protein arrays you can learn so many more things -- you can learn about the pathways, you can learn about activity or loss of activity. So much information can be obtained," Griffin said.

Charles Piazza, vice president and general manager of protein arrays at Invitrogen, estimated that the market may be approximately "$40 million to $120 million, growing at 20 percent annually." He said that the size of the market also depends on the awareness of consumers. "We are still in the early days of rolling out the product and making people aware of what protein arrays can do," Piazza said.

Erik Walldén CEO of Biacore, an Uppsala, Sweden-based company that expanded its place in the market by purchasing HTS' FlexChip System in March, put the market size at $120 million with room to grow to $540 million over the next four years in a March 10 conference call.

— Justin Petrone ([email protected])

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