Looking to extend its nanophotonics business into the life-sciences market, Moxtek last week announced that it is co-developing with Philips Research a new microarray platform that it intends to outlicense to an as-yet unidentified life sciences player.
The platform, called the wire-grid microarray chip, will be designed to offer high surface-specificity and suppression of background signals, and could provide improved quantitative detection of biomolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids, the firms said.
The WGM works by illuminating a grid of metal nanowires with polarized excitation light, and detecting the fluorescence generated by target molecules bound to capture probes on the substrate between the nanowires, the firms said.
Philips and Moxtek, which is owned by Japan's Polatechno, claim that the surface-specific detection of the WGM provides a significant reduction in microarray workflow by removing the need for a washing
step and providing the ability to monitor the binding of biomolecules to the substrate in real time.
Jim Meyer, Moxtek’s microarray product manager, said that the Orem, Utah-based firm decided to enter the life-sciences market to diversify its offerings. Founded in 1986, Moxtek has traditionally played in the X-ray and optical-components markets. For example, its polarizer, which is used in rear-projection HDTV televisions, converts unpolarized electromagnetic waves into a single linear beam.
"We have the ability to mass-produce nanoscale wire-grid polarizers," Meyer told BioArray News this week. "Biotech has been applying nanotechnology quite readily, so it seemed like a natural fit for us to investigate that area."
According to Meyer, Moxtek and Philips Research, based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, anticipate the impending WGM platform will have three main advantages in a market dominated by well-known technologies. The first is that it is an open system as Moxtek and Philips have designed the chip to work with most available commercial microarray readers, he said.
Secondly, the WGM platform allows a hybridization chamber to be placed on the slide. Because the wire-grid array platform enables the detection of binding in the presence of unbound molecules, it eliminates the need for a separate washing step, he said.
Thirdly, the increased sensitivity of the platform could enable researchers to look at lower-abundant genes in applications that require higher sensitivity," Meyer said.
A working prototype should be ready by the end of 2009, and a formal launch is expected in the next few years. Both Moxtek and Philips' R&D teams are co-developing the platform, which both parties have agreed to license to interested parties.
"The technology will be licensed to existing players in the life-sciences market," said Meyer. "We'll support the adoption of [the] technology by the licensee and its future development, but the plan has always been to outlicense this."
Waiting on a Licensee
Moxtek and Philips have yet to hone in on an application area in which the WGM platform might penetrate a market saturated with tools for gene-expression or protein-biomarker profiling.
"We are not focusing on any particular areas," said Meyer. "We'd like to look at the licensee to see where they would like to break into a market with this technology.
"Currently, the expression and DNA-analysis markets are larger, but proteomics is growing at a much greater rate," he said. "So it would seem that DNA would be our first target, followed by other molecules."
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Ruth de Boer, a senior scientist at Philips, told BioArray News this week that the WGM platform is "generally useful for DNA, RNA, and protein analysis," and that Moxtek and Philips have "no reasons to narrow in on one application area."
Philips, known for its consumer lifestyle and lighting products, also has a presence in the healthcare market, and de Boer said that the collaboration with Moxtek is an extension of Philips' expertise in imaging systems and patient monitoring.
Philips has other ongoing array-related programs. For example, company scientists presenting at several conferences in recent years have discussed the development of a protein array platform. The company also holds a number of array-related patents.
A Philips spokesperson told BioArray News this week that the company is "exploring the total microarray area, and there are some topics where it has built up technical knowledge." He did not elaborate.
De Boer said that Philips' ability to mass produce wire grids should enable it to offer a product to the market that costs around the same or less than existing arrays. "Our intention is to keep the price as low as standard arrays," de Boer said. "We don't want to put up an extra barrier on the technology for the user. Fabrication is not an issue."