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Protein Array Shops Predict Buoyant Market Despite Weak NIH Budget, Pharma Stinginess

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The month of January saw the debut of a variety of protein array platforms intended to be used by pharmaceutical and biotech companies as well as the research community. Companies as diverse as GenTel Biosciences, Decision Biomarkers, and Plexera launched or pledged to launch protein array products that could be used in both biomarker discovery and clinical trials.
 
At the same time the companies are entering the market at a time when larger tool vendors complain of weaker-than-expected pharma spending and brace for a flat National Institutes of Health budget into 2009.
 
According to Jared Browning, marketing manager at GenTel Biosciences, the advantage that newer protein-array platforms may have in the market is that they will reduce R&D costs for pharmaceutical companies, making them attractive even at a time when pharmas are cutting back on R&D spending.
 
“These tools offer the real promise of the ‘fail fast, fail early’ approach in the development of therapeutics,” Browning told BioArray News this week. “It is this approach that is increasingly becoming the mantra in the pharma industry today.”
 
Last month GenTel launched its Cancer Biomarker Array for screening proteins relevant to disease and disease progression. Last March the firm, which maintains that the chip can help pharma to stratify patients during clinical trials, acquired an internally developed protein array platform from its long-time collaborator GlaxoSmithKline (see BAN 3/13/2007).
 
The company now offers a sample-testing service for human cytokines on the GSK platform, an offering that Browning said highlights the reality that protein arrays have become a low-cost, mature research tool.
 
“Commercially available multiplex protein analysis tools have matured and hence come of age to the point where a pharma and academic researchers can access highly validated tools without a multi-million dollar investment of their own,” he said. “For example, GenTel’s sample testing service ... is the result of years of development by GlaxoSmithKline to find a solution for biomarker profiling.” 
 
“The use of protein biomarkers is expanding, not contracting,” agreed Roger Dowd, CEO of Decision Biomarkers. DBI last month launched its Avantra workstation along with an 8-plex cytokine biochip to support research in inflammation, autoimmune response, oncology, infectious disease, and vaccines.
 
The firm plans to introduce other immunoassay biochips later this year, including a 10-plex angiogenesis panel and multiplex cardiovascular panel.
 

“These tools offer the real promise of the ‘fail fast, fail early’ approach in the development of therapeutics.”

Dowd told BioArray News that “NIH spending hasn’t been great, and in the area of discovery, pharma has reduced its spend.” However, he noted that Avantra is targeted for clinical trials, as opposed to discovery, and that pharma spending on clinical trials is “very solid at a minimum and probably increasing,” as companies strive to get more drugs into the market and reverse tumbling revenue.
 
“This is a growing and healthy market and I would add that [the market for] products that are focused on discovery will be turning around too,” he said.
 
That is the hope of Plexera, a subsidiary of Bothell, Wash.-based Lumera, which began shipping its Kx5 Analyzer in early access last month with a goal of launching the system — which can screen 5,000 antibodies at a time — in May.
 
According to Helene Jaillet, director of investor relations at Lumera, Plexera’s target market will be pharmas and biotechs engaged in drug discovery. For its part, Plexera is looking to replace internally developed platforms that pharma is currently using — like the one that GSK recently off-loaded to GenTel — with its label-free, high-throughput Kx5 system.
 
“They use their own platforms but that’s been part of the problem when it comes to standardization,” Jaillet told BioArray News last week. “We’ve done a fair amount of research into the printing problems faced by researchers and have selected two commercial printers that will become validated instrument components of the Kx5 instrument system.
 
“Plexera will market the Kx5 Analyzer along with the printers as an integrated instrument system to biomarker and antibody discovery customers,” she said.
 
GE subsidiary BiaCore has also been aiming to replace some of the in-house tools pharma uses to study proteins. The firm’s FlexChip system, which enables the simultaneous, label-free screening of 400 proteins, is developing a “justified position as a complement to or replacement of technologies such as fluorescence-based arrays and automated enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays” commonly used by pharma companies, according to Per Liden, a product manager at Biacore.
 
“As label-free analysis is becoming more and more of a standard tool, we expect the market for label-free array systems to grow as well,” Liden told BioArray News last week. “The main driver for this is that the awareness of the high value of having access to information about binding kinetics for drawing the right conclusions is spreading within application areas that benefit from the array format.”

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