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Newly Independent, Microarrays Inc. Sets Sights on Molecular Diagnostics Market


By Justin Petrone

The management of Microarrays Inc. this week announced that it has purchased the firm from Vanderbilt University, which had owned the company since it founded MI 10 years ago.

The company's managers worked with a group of independent investors to purchase the firm, but did not name the new investors or disclose the sum paid to acquire the company.

According to CEO Joel Peek, MI's change in ownership reflects a shift in its business plans. While it has served as an array foundry for research and diagnostic customers for a decade, it is now seeking to apply its expertise in assay design to the clinical market.

"MI is presently entering a new phase of product development, a realm of commercialization that is typically not handled by a university," Peek told BioArray News this week. "We think this will allow us to more quickly respond to our clients' needs, especially with regards to the diagnostic and healthcare arenas."

The company also intends to seek additional financing, Peek added. He did not elaborate.
MI is based in Huntsville, Ala., but has its origins in the Microarray Core facility of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Comprehensive Cancer Center in Nashville, Tenn. Based on the core's manufacturing expertise, the firm was established through Vanderbilt's Office of Enterprise Development in 2000. Since that time, the company has served mostly as an original equipment manufacturer for external partners involved in both research and clinical testing. Now, MI has decided to enter the molecular diagnostics market to capitalize on its experience in assay development.

"The rationale is the expertise we have built and developed over the years, seeing how we can take to market a product more rapidly that is better than some of the things we have seen in the past," said Peek. "We want to apply our expertise to healthcare-related problems."

According to Peek, MI is pursuing multiple routes towards that goal. "We have begun some programs to identify our own biomarkers, and we are looking at in-licensing opportunities and at building alliances with firms that have biomarkers," said Peek. While the company is investigating a number of potential applications, Peek said that infectious disease testing is an area of interest and that it has manufactured arrays for several infectious disease testing firms in the past, including Diatehrix Laboratories, which is also based in Huntsville.

The company is also hoping to take advantage of its membership in the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, a research center that hosts a dozen biotech firms. HudsonAlpha was developed so that "research discoveries have a close conduit to the commercial sector," said Peek. "There is a great research base here. We have the opportunity to work with world-class researchers and like-minded biotechnology companies who will help accelerate both the development and market entry of our products," he said. MI joined HudsonAlpha in 2008.

MI's array technology is licensed from Oxford Gene Technology, but it has "enhanced that technology to provide an added level of consistency and reliability, Peek said. The firm has also developed its own technology for creating arrays of proteins and other organic molecules. Protein arrays are the "largest growing aspect of our business right now," Peek said.

The firm has also sought in recent years to build its technology base. In 2009, MI acquired Opreon Biotechnologies' array business after Operon, also based in Huntsville, merged with Eurofins MWG Biotech, to focus on the custom oligonucleotide synthesis market.

"We have continued to make those arrays not only for prior Operon customers but our own as well," said Peek. Operon was "very much involved in producing and selling arrays, and we were the OEM partner for those arrays," he said. "It was natural for us to come on and take that part of the business."