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Picking up CodeLink Tech and Staff, Applied Microarrays Looks to Retain Wary Customers

Adding another chapter to the harried tale of the CodeLink bioarray platform, a year-old firm headed by a former Motorola Life Sciences official has purchased the CodeLink assets from GE Healthcare with the intention of keeping alive a technology that has won respect, if not significant market penetration, among array users.
Over the past seven years, CodeLink has passed through the hands of Motorola, Amersham Biosciences, and then GE Healthcare, which announced plans to shutter the CodeLink unit last December.
Now, startup Applied Microarrays is stepping in to market the peripatetic platform. The Tempe, Ariz.-based company purchased the assets from GE in late April for an undisclosed sum.
According to Applied Microarrays CEO Alastair Malcolm, the company will focus on retaining existing CodeLink customers — many of whom have already switched to competing microarray platforms — while it sets a course on using CodeLink's manufacturing resources for custom array and contract manufacturing projects.
"The reason we decided to buy it is because the CodeLink facility has one of the highest capacity spotting capabilities in the world," Malcolm told BioArray News this week. "It's been used for the past seven years to print the products and the intent is to use that capacity to create a contract manufacturing and custom array facility that could capitalize on the site," he said.
He added that, while CodeLink was never number one or two in the expression market, it did have some attributes that allowed it to maintain a loyal customer base.
Malcolm said that Applied Microarrays plans to move beyond CodeLink’s previous focus on human, rat, and mouse whole-genome catalog chips toward a custom array business. "This is not just a CodeLink play, we want to partner with other partners that would just develop the content," he explained.
He added that within the last week, Applied Microarrays has entered into "three or four discussions" with companies about custom projects "so this activity has already started. We have inventory today and we can take orders so we don’t anticipate a long ramp-up period," Malcolm said.
In addition to gaining CodeLink's Tempe, Ariz.-based manufacturing facilities, Applied Microarrays has procured the right to all of CodeLink's catalog arrays with the exception of blank slides.
GE Healthcare spokesperson Arvind Gopalratnam told BioArray News in an e-mail this week that GE will "continue to provide the non-arrayed activated slides to customers." He also wrote that if GE had not sold CodeLink to Applied Microarrays, it would have shuttered the unit and sold off its assets.
Malcolm, who served as vice president of operations at Motorola when CodeLink was first developed and who continued through CodeLink's incarnations at Amersham and GE until he left that company a year ago, declined to discuss the financial dimensions of the sale. He said that in addition to gaining the CodeLink platform, Applied Microarrays has also hired key members of CodeLink's development team from GE. "We hired the team entirely from what was the GE team, so we didn't take in any outsiders," he said.
Malcolm declined to discuss how many people work at Applied Microarrays.
Along with the retained R&D team, Applied Microarrays has also inherited some CodeLink projects under development for specific theme arrays. Even as GE was mulling the future of CodeLink, the firm launched its Mammalian Inflammation Multiassay Bioarray 3 Series in September, which comprises three arrays for analyzing variations in RNA expression for genes involved in inflammation response. CodeLink senior scientist Randall Lockner — who has joined Applied Microarrays — told BioArray News in October that GE was also developing theme arrays for metabolism and women's health (see BAN 10/10/2006).
Lockner said at the time that the metabolism chip would be a “catchall” that would package about 1,200 genes into a 16-assay format, while for women’s health, the “idea would be to identify the common genes in breast cancer, cervical cancer, other common cancers and diseases that afflict women and to place that content into a 16-assay format."
Malcolm said this week that CodeLink would introduce some more theme arrays in the future, but he declined to discuss what kinds of arrays customers are likely to see.
Maintaining the Base
Another goal of Applied Microarrays is to maintain the loyal base of customers that have patiently stuck with the CodeLink platform as it has passed through the hands of Motorola, Amersham, and GE.
This poses a challenge for the company, however, as GE initially helped users switch to other microarray platforms when it first decided to discontinue the product line (see BAN 12/19/2006).

"Amersham just neglected it and it got worse under GE."

"I wish it would have happened about three or four months ago," Scott Magnuson, the CEO of GenUs Biosciences, a Northbrook, Ill.-based array services shop, told BioArray News this week. GenUs used to offer services based on CodeLink, but switched its main platform to Agilent Technologies after GE decided to shutter the unit.
"[GE] put us in a tight spot. It took us the last three months to do our own internal work to prove to our customers that Agilent was a reliable platform," Magnuson said. “It's a hard choice now what to tell our customers."
Magnuson said that he would consider keeping CodeLink as a second platform and that he’s pleased that the platform is still available.
Vladimir Benes, the head of the genomics core facility at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, welcomed Applied Microarrays' acquisition of CodeLink, saying that "Amersham just neglected it and it got worse under GE."
He told BioArray News this week that Applied Microarrays "needs to work diligently to maintain the CodeLink community." He said that CodeLink should have expanded in the past to offer other model organisms, "but I am willing to give them the chance and I think they deserve some support from the community side."
But why stick with CodeLink given its mottled past? Benes said that users have toughed it out with CodeLink because "the system is very straightforward, delivering clean data, specificity, and sensitivity."
"The beauty of it is in its simplicity and you don't have to have an elaborate, sophisticated setup to run such an array." he said. "If you don't have an army of bioinformaticians behind you, CodeLink provides a very straightforward path to results without the need to massage data with normalization."
Benes added that the CodeLink platform is “robust and performs well. It's up to [Applied Microarrays] to make it or break it.”
Applied Microarrays’ Malcolm said that keeping customers like Magnuson and Benes in the fold is now a priority for Applied Microarrays. "We've got all the customer lists and details from GE and we’ve been contacting them every day," he said.
"We will be doing some mass mailings this week and we will certainly reach out to the customers that had purchased arrays most recently and we have been speaking with all of them," Malcolm added.