Beckman Coulter threw its protein chips on the table this week, launching a new microtiter plate-based protein array platform at PittCon in Orlando, Fla.
With this product debut, the Fullerton, Calif., laboratory instrumentation player has become one of a small but growing number of companies to actually launch commercial products to this emerging market, which was, until this year, filled mostly with vaporware and alpha tests.
The system is initially a self-spotting platform aimed at the research market but is slated to include catalog arrays that will be targeted to the needs of pharmaceutical companies, said Brendan Yee, strategic marketing manager for the product.
In the array, each microtiter plate well is studded with oligonucleotide linkers, to which the proteins are attached via complementary oligos. The system has 14 different oligo pairs, to enable users to attach 13 different monoclonal antibody probes to the array, plus a control pair.
The system includes a reader that sells for $74,000, as well as oligo linker pair kits that sell for $330 each, and plate-and-reagent kits that sell for $430 each. The user provides the monoclonal antibodies.
Other recent entrants into this field include Zyomyx, of Hayward, Calif., which launched its protein profiling biochip last month, and just last week, added Aventis to its list of customers for the system. Additionally, in a sign that the private equity markets believe protein chips will pan out, SomaLogic of Boulder, Colo., closed $19.5 million in a series C financing in mid-February to fund development of its aptamer protein arrays.
The Beckman Coulter arrays stand out, said Yee, because they provide “the whole, complete solution,” and because of the speed of the analysis they enable.
In addition to the array, “we’ve got the plate, the hardware, the reader, and another part is the software,” he said. “If you’re able to read a plate within five minutes and, within that [time], collect the data from each spot that’s been automatically identified and background subtracted, you can pull that information readily. With other systems,” he said, “you might have to lay a grid down, do the finding, set parameters and adjust the grid.”
The company is now in the process of working out how and when to launch catalog arrays based on this system, according to Yee. This second phase is likely to include cytokine arrays as well as those that cover apoptotic pathways and cell-signaling pathways — whatever the company discerns is “popular within the marketplace.
Eventually, the company will look into going to higher-density chips, but now is focusing on “the sweet spot, which is between five and 15 analytes,” Yee said.
“We’re just getting this out to the market as we speak,” he added, indicating there would be more news as the company itself figures out where to go next.
Beckman Coulter, it appears, is not as far advanced in its planning as Zyomyx, which has been developing its protein arrays for years. But the company, which had $380 million in revenues last year and turned a profit, has enough market muscle in the life sciences area already that it certainly can afford to catch up with smaller rivals.