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Phalanx Plans New Ag-bio, Disease-Research Chips; Mulls Sequencing Services


By Justin Petrone

Taiwan-based Phalanx Biotech this year will debut several new microarrays for agricultural and human-disease research and is considering adding next-generation sequencing services, according to a company official.

Kevin Poon, technical market and support manager for the 7-year-old biochip firm, told BioArray News this week that Phalanx expects to launch "between two and three" new arrays this year, with its current product-development activities "focused around agricultural crops and research diagnostics."

Overall, Phalanx anticipates an "active production schedule" in 2011 that aims to capitalize on the firm's manufacturing scalability. It will also try to maintain "high-quality microarrays at attractive price points," Poon said, declining to elaborate.

Phalanx's new chips will follow a number of new products and services the company has introduced over the past year. Last week, it began selling its Rat Whole Genome OneArray for expression profiling in rat studies, while last year it upgraded its microRNA array menu.

Also In 2010, Phalanx launched its Yeast Whole Genome OneArray along with new versions of its OneArray whole-genome expression arrays for human and mouse studies.

Phalanx has accompanied this flurry of new products by expanding its services.

Though last year the firm began offering quantitative PCR via its labs in Taiwan and California, "Phalanx was founded as a microarray manufacturer, leveraging our innovative non-contact spotting technology," Poon said. "We have made great strides in building the company's product portfolio and global presence."

'Amidst Budget Constraints'

Since it first gained attention in 2004 when it began selling whole-genome expression arrays for $99, Phalanx has always tried to position itself as a high-quality, low-cost array vendor. The fact that it did not launch its platform until 2007 — a time when even entrenched players like Affymetrix and Agilent Technologies were experiencing flatter sales growth — didn't discourage the firm from trying to carve out a niche for itself in the expression market (BAN 5/15/2007).

A recent statement discussing the new Rat Whole Genome OneArray touched on the biotech economy. In it, Lester Lien, president of Phalanx's US operations, said the company will launch the OneArray "amidst an environment of budget constraints." He also said its debut is "timely for the rat-model research community."

Phalanx's arrays, manufactured in bulk to benefit from economies of scale using the company's PhalanxJet spotting technology, specialized coating chemistry, and a fully automated assembly system, currently sell for $99. In comparison, rival Illumina's whole-genome chips cost $160 apiece.

"We are cognizant of tight research budgets and strive to offer cost-efficient solutions without compromise to data quality and customer support," Poon said this week.

In addition, according to Lien, drug makers are increasingly submitting toxicogenomic data in new drug applications to the US Food and Drug Administration, which could be a potential boon to the company.

"Expression profiling in rat models will be necessary for biomarker development and validation in the drug development process," Lien said in the statement.

Another way Phalanx tried to carve out a place for itself in the crowded expression array market was by creating its OneArray Express program. Launched in 2008, the initiative was meant to stock core labs with large supplies of its chips, thereby cutting their shipping and handling costs (BAN 3/10/2009).

Some of Phalanx's OneArray Express clients included core facilities at Oklahoma State University, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of Connecticut, and Texas A&M University.

This week, Poon said that the program has been discontinued. "Given our expanding line of new and updated OneArray products, it became cumbersome for purchasers at each core facility to stock our entire line," he said. "As such, we decided to offer our core facilities the ability to order products on an as-needed basis." The OneExpress program was formally discontinued last year.

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Spanning the Globe

To date, Phalanx's direct sales efforts have been primarily concentrated in the US, Taiwan, and China, Poon said, though the firm directly and indirectly serves customers in more than 20 countries.

The company, which maintains facilities in Hsinchu, Taiwan, and Belmont, Calif., also oversees a number of distributors. These include Shanghai-based Kangchen Biotech, Shanghai Biochip, and Beijing Hualu Runsheng Microelectronics Technical, which represents it in mainland China; Seoul-based Digital Genomics, which sells its products in Korea; and Prague, Czech Republic-based Central European Biosystems, which serves its European customers.

"We have sales teams focused in the US, Taiwan, and China," said Poon. "We continue to gain traction in Europe and plan to add more distributors on a country-by-country basis."

This year, Phalanx inked a partnership with San Diego-based Biomatrica, a developer of room-temperature biostability technologies. Biomatrica's RNAStable product enables customers to preserve and ship total RNA, mRNA, and miRNA samples at room temperature, allowing Phalanx's customers to more easily ship their RNA samples to its services facilities in Taiwan and California.

As Phalanx expands its global reach, it is also adding to the suite of genomic research services it offers customers. Last year, the firm introduced SYBR Green and TaqMan qPCR services, "not only for de novo projects, but also for microarray validation," Poon said.

The company is also weighing a move into next-generation sequencing, most likely via third-party providers.

"We are exploring next-gen sequencing services as it relates to transcriptome analysis, and are establishing a network of partners capable of offering cost-efficient solutions for customers," said Poon.

He said that some customers have already been requesting sequencing analysis. Phalanx has not yet decided what form its sequencing offering will take.

"We are still exploring options in establishing our network, and have not yet fully decided the business model that offers the best service to our customers," said Poon.

Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioArray News? Contact the editor at jpetrone [at] genomeweb [.] com.