Agilent Technologies is looking to bolster its current advantage in the market for array-based comparative genomic hybridization and other nascent array applications by offering research partners early access to new technologies under development in its Agilent Laboratories R&D arm.
Array-CGH has been a flagship application of Agilent’s array business for several years, and the company currently manufactures chips for use in Baylor College of Medicine’s and Signature Genomic Laboratories’ CGH-based genetic screening services.
Eying a growing market for array-CGH, Agilent is giving customers access to fresh technology via Agilent Labs that could ultimately put them ahead of other scientists using competitive technologies.
According to Stephen Laderman, senior manager of life sciences and nanotechnologies at Agilent Labs, the organization also only receives about 7 percent of Agilent’s life sciences R&D funding per year. However, Agilent Labs offers expertise in both platform and application areas that make it an ideal partner for some scientists.
“Labs is a small portion of R&D, but it is the one place in Agilent where all different technological know-how, customer know-how, and underlying disciplines come together,” Laderman told BioArray News this week.
“We have excellence in understanding platforms and also in applications. It is very much part of Agilent’s strategy to integrate teams to create measurement solutions for customers,” he said.
According to Laderman, Agilent Labs selects research partners based on their specific projects and how they fit into the group’s current R&D priorities.
“A typical characteristic of an external party is that they want to move to the frontier of life sciences and think that access to technology can provide them with a way ahead,” said Laderman.
“Certainly progression to new formats is a significant advantage for users of array technology and it has a positive impact on what can do for our customers,” he said. “At the same time it’s an evolutionary part of product development.”
Dr. Lee, PhD
One user who has found it advantageous to work with Agilent Labs is Charles Lee, a cytogeneticist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Lee told BioArray News that he has been working with Agilent Labs over the past year to develop a “CNV-enriched array platform that could serve as a foundation for future disease association studies.” He said that a study detailing the new platform has been submitted for publication and that his major interest has been in the area of oncology.
According to Lee, there is a “night and day” difference between the CGH platforms companies like Agilent and NimbleGen were producing several years ago and what they are offering today.
Lee said that the collaboration with Agilent Labs has given him access to higher-density arrays than the company’s current 244,000-feature chips. He said that he was aware of 1.1-million feature chips in development at Agilent.
Lee said that through early-access partnerships like his, Agilent is “getting feedback from users on the performance of each probe on the array” and has been able to “refine its arrays and their content as they go along to make sure they put on better performing probes.”
Michael Bittner, co-director and senior investigator in the computational biology division at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, is also working with Agilent Labs on projects related to “a variety of human cancers.”
Like Lee, Bittner similarly told BioArray News this week that an advantage to working with Agilent Labs is that researchers have the possibility to influence the development of the technology to their benefit.
“Agilent Labs is the group that works to create new technical solutions, and is therefore the group that works with groups that are interested in testing technologies before they are commercially released,” he said.
“Labs is a small portion of R&D, but it is the one place in Agilent where all different technological know-how, customer know-how, and underlying disciplines come together.”
“The major benefit is that we get to suggest changes to the hardware and software that make it more useful for the kinds of experiments we would like to carry out with the technology.”
Like Lee, Bittner is also working with Agilent Labs on projects involving CGH. Specifically, he said that melanoma is a focus of his research. Unlike Lee, though, Bittner is less interested in higher-density arrays and more interested in gaining access to a more sensitive platform.
“Quite a lot of people would like to use less DNA and have faithful amplification schemes as part of their DNA processing and workflow,” he said. In addition, Bittner is interested in using CGH together with formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded samples. “I know Agilent is working on its own labeling protocols for improving that,” he added.
Access to so-called “bleeding-edge” technology might seem enticing for a lot of scientists, but according to Laderman, Agilent Labs is fairly selective about the projects it works on. He pointed out that Agilent’s individual businesses already have their own R&D organizations that can also offer customers varying forms of early access to technology.
“Access to technology and know-how is given on a case-by-case basis in terms of the actual collaboration at hand and how it fits into product flow externally and internally,” Laderman explained.
Additionally, because of Agilent’s “fluid” internal structure, projects can move from business R&D group to Labs or vice versa, he said.
Occasionally, Agilent Labs projects snowball into the business R&D groups for commercialization. Such was the case of the miRNA array line that Agilent debuted in April.
“We developed a novel approach to miRNA profiling and the probe design and methodology were worked out in Agilent Labs,” Laderman said. He added that the first official use of the platform was through collaborators who were ultimately helped by access to the technology.
“They took the risk that it hadn’t yet been demonstrated, but it did in fact assist their research and that was publicized ultimately to their advantage,” said Laderman. Risk, it turns out, is part of the package of working with Agilent Labs.
“Agilent Labs is chartered to take on projects that have higher technical risk or higher market risk,” Laderman. “If a project is deemed to be of mutual benefit, then Agilent Labs picks up the ball and decides what will be the next step.”