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As PerkinElmer Merger Nears, Packard Plows Ahead with New Array Offerings

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Despite its looming merger with PerkinElmer, Packard Biosciences has aggressively pushed to launch new products in the microarray sector this fall.

The Meriden, Conn.-based company introduced a HydroGel-coated slide to be used for protein arrays in September, and plans to unveil ArrayInformatics, an array lab database and analysis software product, as well as a new Scan Array Express scanner at the Chips to Hits conference in San Diego later this month.

This wave of product introductions comes just after PerkinElmer and Packard announced September 27 that both companies’ shareholders had approved the merger, in which PerkinElmer is to acquire Packard in a stock deal valued at $650 million.

Currently, both companies are in the process of working through the regulatory minutiae of the merger with the Federal Trade Commission, and the deal is expected to close in November, according to PerkinElmer CEO Gregory Summe.

The companies have not, however, begun discussing how they will merge their product lines, and whether any products would be discontinued, according to Wayne Richardson, Packard’s director of investor relations.

Given this uncertainty, it could seem counterproductive for Packard to introduce new products now.

But in PerkinElmer’s view, the Packard product introductions make sense because the company does not see a significant overlap between its and Packard’s products — especially in the microarray area. “Our whole rationale for the acquisition is that we see [our product offerings] as highly complementary,” said Kevin Loren, the company’s director of corporate communications.

 

Packard Strategy to Capture Protein Array Market Gels

 

In fact, Packard’s new protein array offering follows in step with PerkinElmer’s plans for the company. One reason PerkinElmer decided to acquire Packard was that PerkinElmer is seeking to build a protein chip production and services business, PerkinElmer president of drug discovery Patrik Dahlen earlier told BioArray News.

Packard had already decided to focus on protein arrays after launching its BioChip subsidiary in October 2000 and surveying the existing market. “There are a lot of DNA array companies out there,” said Richard Fisler, manager of marketing for the BioChips Ventures division. “It makes more sense to go into protein arrays.”

The HydroGel slide introduction, according to Packard, is a key component of this protein chip strategy. The company has been working for two years to develop the HydroGel coating, which creates a “wet cradle,” in which proteins can thrive, according to Fisler.

This long R&D process has been mostly aimed at getting the protein to bind reliably to the substrate, the main technological hurdle for anyone trying to produce proof-of-concept protein chips. “We believe that’s solved with HydroGel,” said Fisler.

The company manufactures the HydroGel slides in Class-1000 clean rooms, and is selling them at $369 for a box of 25 and $1,425 for a box of 100. Packard is planning to develop catalog protein arrays using the Hydrogel substrate, but is still in the process of determining which groups of proteins will be most marketable as content.

To accompany its HydroGel slides, Packard has tailored its mid-range Biochip Arrayer to researchers developing protein chips. The arrayer’s PiezoTipnology non-contact printing method works well for protein arrays as it does not disturb the gel substrate. The combination of this printer and the HydroGel provides “a good encapsulated solution,” Fisler said. “We have sold many more than we ever thought we would.”

 

For “Old” Genes, New Software and Scanners

 

But Packard is not limiting itself to protein arrays. In May the company introduced the Spot Array 24, a low-end pin tool bench top arrayer, which it followed in June by a non-contact SpotArray Enterprise arrayer. The Enterprise costs about $200,000 and is designed for users who want to manufacture large amounts of arrays for sale.

On the software front, the company is now preparing to introduce ArrayInformatics, its microarray database and visualization software package, at Chips to Hits. The software is designed as a virtual lab book, allowing users to enter into a database key information about all stages of the experiment, from PCR and RNA purification to arraying and hybridization protocols. It also offers basic statistical analysis tools such as bar graphs and spreadsheets.

“We have focused more on data collection than analysis and more on the front end than the back end,” said Randall Morse, director of marketing for the company’s Biochips Instruments division.

Packard also plans to launch a new a line of scanners, the ScanArray Express, at Chips to Hits. These scanners will build upon the well-established scanners the company has been selling since it acquired the life sciences division of GSI Lumonics last year, which was among the first companies to have a microarray scanner on the market.

While original ScanArrays were designed for so-called “early adopters” who like to tinker with products, this new scanner has been redesigned for the larger number of researchers who want something automated and easy to use, Morse said.

The company is hoping these scanners, like its other products, could also become popular in the protein array market. The scanners use multiple lasers, enabling them to handle multiple dye colors, which researchers may use to label several different proteins. “The protein array world is less fixated on cy3 and cy5,” said Morse. “A multilaser scanner allows you to work with multiple dyes.”

These scanners, the biochip reader, and the hydrogel slides, Packard hopes, will provide a complete solution for protein microarray researchers.

Whether this array of new products takes off, however, will depend not only on their competitive features, but also upon how Packard’s prospective parent PerkinElmer decides to market them.

— MMJ

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