Japanese instrument manufacturer Olympus solidified its interests in the biotech space last week after it signed an agreement with Cangen Biotechnologies, an American molecular diagnostics company, to develop and commercialize a microarray-based diagnostic test for early-stage lung cancer.
According to a statement from the companies, Bethesda, Md.-based Cangen will combine its "hybrid DNA- and protein-based diagnostic test" with Olympus' microarray technology, which will "enable the DNA-based portion of the test allowing high-throughput testing for lung cancer."
Richard Silfen, Cangen's CEO, said in a statement that integration of Olympus' high-throughput microarray platform with Cangen's test would "improve substantially the likelihood for developing a commercially viable molecular diagnostic, early-stage lung cancer test that can be offered at compelling prices."
He told BioArray News in an interview that the test Cangen is developing combines his company's mass-spectrometry technology and DNA-based technology to form a hybrid test that scans for "[less] protein markers" and "allows high sensitivity, specificity, and high-throughput with less sample [material]."
Silfen explained that what Olympus brings to the equation is its 3D microarray chip and scanner, which will allow Cangen to significantly decrease the cost of the test.
"This will ultimately be used for mass screening," Silfen said. He said that Cangen expects to begin "clinical trials on the test within the next two years," and that the company is unsure of a possible price, but is "shooting for a $50 price tag."
Silfen explained that the strategy behind the test is that because it deals with lung cancer patients who have a higher risk profile, and will be low cost, American health care providers will be more likely to pay for a test that could save them lots of money in the long run.
"You would have something that people like Aetna, and anybody in the US, could justify paying for," he said.
A test for lung cancer is not the only diagnostic the company is working on. Cangen is involved in Phase 3 clinical trials for a diagnostic for bladder cancer, although that test is not array-based. The 5-year-old company, which has a research facility in Rockville, Md., and a clinical development office headed in Seoul, Korea, also has interests in developing diagnostics for "cancers of the head and neck as well as stomach, liver, pancreas and other organs," according to its website.
Yasuchi Iuchi, a spokesperson for Olympus, wrote in an e-mail to BioArray News that he could not comment further on the developments with Cangen "because of a contract matter" with the company. He did say, however, that the microarray platform that Olympus developed with Dutch chip vendor PamGene is "one of the candidates" for the DNA portion of Cangen's test.
Olympus' 3D microarray was developed with PamGene three years ago. The technology differs from some rival platforms by using a three-dimensional, multi-porous substrate, rather than a two-dimensional substrate, which Olympus claims can speed analysis because the RNA sample is pumped several times through capillaries on the device, creating stronger reactions in less time.
PamGene's Tim Kievits told BioArray News last year that Olympus' 3D microarray used PamGene's linear amplification model. Olympus has been collaborating with PamGene since 1999 and the relationship was expanded in March 2001, when the firms agreed to jointly develop a series of instrument platforms and applications for gene expression, integrated amplification, and protein analysis. Olympus had also made an undisclosed, but "significant" equity investment in PamGene.
In May 2003, the partnership was expanded when PamGene granted Olympus non-exclusive, worldwide rights to sell the flow-through microarray technology to the pharmaceutical and biotech R&D and diagnostic testing markets. At the time, PamGene said Olympus had paid roughly €6 million ($7.4 million) for access to the technology.
In the same interview last year, Kievits also hinted that Olympus' platform and imaging technology might be useful for those working on diagnostic tests for cancer.
"[Olympus is] looking at adding value to [its] endoscope business through identifying particular gene-expression patterns in a sample taken by the endoscope," Kievits told BioArray News. While known for its digital cameras, Olympus has been in the endoscope business for 50 years, and offers a line of medical tools, such as telescopes, videoscopes, and fibrescopes.
"What they're trying to do is create a feedback loop to the person who does the endoscope" — which would translate into being able to get results on a biopsy without having to send it out to a diagnostic lab, Kievits said.
PamGene officials could not be reached for comment on the Cangen diagnostic deal before BioArray News went to press.
Aside from the 2003 agreement with PamGene that allowed Olympus to pursue its own partnerships for use of its microarray technology, its membership in the Cosmos Alliance has also contributed to the company's ambitions to become a player in the biotech industry.
The Cosmos Alliance is an international organization that aims to commercialize innovative biotech products through various collaborations, and is based in the same building that houses Cangen in Bethesda. Cangen is listed as a portfolio company of the group on the organization's website.
Olympus joined the group in December 2002 and Iuchi told BioArray News that the "latest agreement will serve as part of" the alliance's efforts to commercialize biotech products.
"[The] Cosmos Alliance is an international alliance formed to accelerate commercialization in the life sciences through equity investments, joint ventures, collaborative research, and technology transfer," Iuchi explained.
"Through Cosmos-facilitated joint development programs and capital investment into the members within the [alliance] that possess innovative biotech expertise, Olympus plans to accelerate the commercialization of its own range of advanced biotech-related products, which includes instruments for genome and protein analysis. The collaboration agreement with Cangen Biotechnologies represents one of these efforts," Iuchi said.
Selfin confirmed that the duo had joined forces under the auspices of the Cosmos Alliance.
Other Cosmos portfolio companies include Panacea Pharmaceuticals, a Gaithersburg, Md.-based biopharmaceutical company that seeks to use genomic and protein analysis tools for diagnosis of cancer and diseases of the central nervous system; Elusys Therapeutics, a Pine Brook, NJ-based biopharma developing drugs and applications for infectious diseases, biodefense, and cancer; and Genervon, a Montebello, Calif.-based subsidiary of KM Biotech that is focused on development of drug therapies for injuries and diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system.
— Justin Petrone ([email protected])