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Refocusing on Product Sales, Gentel Bio Debuts Proteomic Platform

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By Justin Petrone

Gentel Biosciences, a long-time custom assay and services shop, has expanded its business model by launching a new proteomic platform as a way to enable customers to process samples in their own lab.

The instrument allows users to run arrays, Western blots, and tissue sections, and is indicative of the direction in which the firm is heading, according to a company official.

The Madison, Wis.-based company, which will continue to create custom assays and perform service work, plans to add capabilities to the system to support enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays later this year. Eventually it also hopes to develop and market its platform to genomics researchers and pharmaceutical customers.

Dan Clutter, vice president of commercial development, said Gentel's recently launched Proteomics Multi-System allows users to run arrays, Western blots, and tissue sections, and is indicative of the direction in which the firm is heading.

"We wanted to put the tools in researchers' hands so that they can do it themselves," Clutter told BioArray News last week. "Our strategy has been to lower any barriers such as cost, speed, sensitivity, flexibility, sample analysis, and operation. Our goal is to make high-quality proteomics analysis available to the masses."

According to Clutter, "the focus in 2009" was to get the Multi-System to market, while toward the end of the year the firm "focused on expanding the capability by improving the software so that it would be attractive to the broad proteomics market."

This year, Gentel will "focus [on] getting the unique content arrays to market and becoming an integral part of the proteomics workflow," he said.

The protein array market is typically not as product-oriented as the DNA array market, partially due to the nature of proteins themselves, which are notoriously difficult to array in a manner suitable for large-scale commercialization.

Some vendors, such as Life Technologies' Invitrogen business, have offered catalog protein arrays for research, while others, like GE Healthcare's Whatman, have offered more focused products.

However, a wider swath of companies in the protein array space, among them Gentel, have chosen to develop custom assays based on the specific demands of their clients, while others bypass vendors by making their own arrays.

Clutter acknowledged that proteomics has "historically been a 'do-it-yourself' field." Still, he said science in general is a "do-it-yourself endeavor," and suggested the firm's new Multi-System should support the needs of proteomic researchers, rather than force them to change their behavior to adapt to the platform.

Selling the System

Gentel's Proteomics Multi-System includes a chromogenic scanner with software that enables a "simple" interface for analysis, according to the firm. In 2008, Gentel licensed Eppendorf's Silverquant colorimetric-detection technology for use in its protein-array assays. Silverquant is a patented method in which gold particle-enhanced silver crystal deposition is used to detect and quantify microarrays (see BAN 6/3/2008).

The following year, Gentel launched its scanner based on the technology, but that version was only able to support the firm's protein array slides and lacked analysis ability, Clutter said.

By comparison, the Multi-System includes new software to control the scanner and enables researchers to run Gentel's slides, competitors' slides, 96-well plates, any size Western blots, and tissue sections. Gentel plans to add capabilities to support enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays later this year, Clutter said.

Each application has different resolution and color needs, as well, Clutter added. He said the platform is designed to scan slides at approximately 10-micron resolution in grey scale, blots at about 50 microns in grey scale, and tissues at about 4 microns in color. The scanning speeds are variable and are related to the image file size, he added.

The US list price for the system is $8,990, which includes the scanner, all software, and a laptop computer.

Gentel's target market for the instrument is "any proteomics laboratory," according to Clutter. Mass spectrometry labs "need validation tools and currently use a lot of Westerns, but could also use some of the simple array kits we offer such as the human or mouse cytokine array kits or the serum cancer biomarker kit or the glycobiomarker kit," he said. Gentel launched these kits last year on its APiX colorimetric array platform (see BAN 2/3/2009).

"Anyone currently running fluorescence microarrays is a potential customer since comparable data-analysis software costs $9,000 to $10,000 and for less that that you can get an entire system from us," Clutter said. "They can run the exact same experiment they are doing today except at the end instead of adding a fluorophore they will use our chromogenic-detection reagents."

Pharmaceutical and genomics researchers will also be a potential market for Gentel. Clutter said the company is developing new kits that will launch in a couple months that are focused on pathway analysis and animal-pathogen detection.

Using the pathway-analysis kits, genomics researchers would be able to confirm or validate their results to real protein levels, Clutter said. From the animal pathogen side, they could verify that their animals were not compromised by active or latent infections, which could affect their gene-expression profiles and lead to erroneous conclusions, he said.

One early-access customer for the Multi-System is Inviragen, a firm that develops vaccines against emerging infectious diseases. Based in Fort Collins, Colo., with offices in Madison, Wis., and Singapore, Inviragen is developing a vaccine to protect against dengue fever; hand, foot and mouth disease; and Japanese encephalitis. The company also claims to have vaccines in preclinical research stages for chikungunya, human papillomavirus, new forms of influenza, and West Nile virus.

Harry Partidos, a senior scientist at Inviragen, said in a statement that the company has been using the Proteomics Multi-System for measuring cytokine levels in mouse models as part of its vaccine-development work.

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