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With New Product Roadmap, and Sale, Amersham s CodeLink Asserts Viability

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Last Wednesday, Amersham Biosciences and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory of Heidelberg, Germany, issued a joint statement to announce the lab’s purchase of a CodeLink system to perform gene expression experiments in its developmental biology unit and its genomics core facility.

Also on Wednesday, General Electric’s proposed $9.5 billion acquisition of Amersham received regulatory clearance from the European Union, following a December clearance issued by the US Federal Trade Commission. With those approvals, Amersham said in a statement that the acquisition, initiated Oct. 10, could close in early April.

The Amersham and EMBL announcement, CodeLink officials said, answers questions about the direction of the product line.

“This particular announcement with EMBL makes it real for groups and parties that have been particularly concerned where CodeLink is going,” Sam Raha, vice president of CodeLink, told BioArray News. “We have consistently said that as this [acquisition] process continues, we feel that CodeLink will be an important part of Amersham. We are very happy about that.”

When the company is merged with General Electric, Amersham’s chief executive Sir William Castell will become a vice chairman and member of the board of directors of General Electric and will assume the title of CEO of GE Healthcare Technologies, which combines GE’s medical businesses with Amersham.

For the CodeLink line, this will be the second integration in two years, as Amersham purchased CodeLink for $20 million in July 2002 (see BAN 8/2/2002) from Motorola, which opted to exit the pre-printed microarray business. Since then, Amersham consolidated CodeLink’s Chicago and Tempe, Ariz., operations into an 85,000 square-foot factory in Chandler, Ariz. In its year-end report for 2003, the city of Chandler estimated Amersham’s capital investment on the factory at $5.5 million.

In July, in presenting its mid-year report (see BAN 8/6/2003), Amersham said that the $10 million operating loss thus far in its Discovery Systems unit includes $7 million of net expenditures on CodeLink. Amersham will provide its preliminary report for fiscal year 2003 this week.

CodeLink, which today lists custom arrays and a catalog of reagents, software, activated slides, human P450 SNP arrays, as well as human, rat and mouse preprinted chips, will soon add a number of new products, Raha told BioArray News.

The company is targeting an April release for a whole-human- genome array containing 50,000 genes, the most comprehensive representation of the genome, said Raha. Currently, the company’s CodeLink UniSet Human 20K I targets approximately 20,000 annotated human genes from the UniGene and RefSeq databases. Additionally, Raha said the company is planning additional whole-genome arrays, including rat and mouse products early in the third quarter.

In early March, the company plans to introduce an optional format that divides its individual chips into 16 compartments, along with a new rat ADME assay, said Raha.

As those products are moving to market, the company is also developing modular systems to automate workflows. While not providing a timetable for this rollout, Raha said the company is also preparing an automation product for target preparation that will work with the two most major platforms. He declined to specify the platforms.

Moreover, he said, despite having the means to do so earlier, the company will roll out a protein microarray product in the first half of 2005.

“We could have a [protein microarray] product in the next two months. [But] there are many challenges,” he said. “That’s why Amersham is not jumping into it tomorrow.”

EMBL Chooses CodeLink

The choice of CodeLink by EMBL, a research and training institute supported by 17 countries (most of the European Union members as well as Switzerland and Israel) is a customer win for CodeLink — not so much in terms of instruments, reagents, and arrays that may be sold under the agreement, but in the context of having a research organization, which is not primarily known for its functional genomics investigators, evaluate and purchase its technology.

But CodeLink will not be the exclusive platform of EMBL, which already provides its researchers with access to homebrew microarray technology as well as the Affymetrix platform.

The genomics core facility, with a staff of nine full-time employees, processes nearly a thousand home-brew arrays yearly, as well as “hundreds” of Affymetrix GeneChips, Vladimir Benes, head of the genomics core facility, told BioArray News. Additionally EMBL also plans to add Febit’s Geniom One platform to its microarray equipment offerings.

“CodeLink is a very good platform for researchers who just want to see more than classical approaches offer, and that’s it,” Benes said. “It’s sensitive, highly reproducible, it has specificity — all of it is there. CodeLink is very robust, straightforward and very clean. EMBL is trying to be flexible, so people have a chance to work with [the tools] they want to use.”

Benes said EMBL has had a relationship with Amersham that predates the 1997 merger with Pharmacia.

Under the agreement announced last week, EMBL will use the CodeLink platform in its developmental biology unit, as well as in its functional genomics core.

The mammalian organogenesis and endocrinology research group within the developmental biology unit is using the mouse as its model system in studies on the transform-ation of pituitary tumors from benign to malignant. The scientists working on this problem required a microarray platform that contained most of the annotated mouse genes available today, and also needed to reliably record changes in expression levels of low-abundance genes, the company said in a statement. The CodeLink UniSet Mouse 20K Bioarray was used to carry out expression profiling on the different pituitary tumor stages in order to gain data on expression profile changes.

In addition, GeneCore at EMBL will be offering services for the CodeLink system to other scientific groups at EMBL, and their European academic collaborators.

— MOK

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