Toshiba, eager to have its DNA chip technology developed and sold in the North American market, has licensed its microarray-related patents to US start-up Antara Biosciences.
According to Antara's CEO Marc Labgold, the company is looking to build on Toshiba's IP by tweaking the technology, selling the platform as a stand-alone product, building a service business, and investing in in-house molecular diagnostics development.
"The business model of the company is going to be somewhat three fold," Labgold told BioArray News last week. First, the shop "wants to be able to sell its technology as an open platform." Second, it plans to provide a service business whereby it runs experiments for customers. Thirdly, Antara expects to have its own diagnostic program where it will be putting its own targets onto its platform, Labgold said. He declined to provide examples of disease areas or indications where Antara could develop diagnostics.
Three-month-old Antara is financed by Toshiba's Tokyo neighbor Eurus Genomics (see BAN 3/14/2006) and expects to be in its Mountain View, Calif. digs May 1. At that point, the company will be located just 15 minutes from large array firms such as Agilent Technologies, Applied Biosystems, and Affymetrix. However, Labgold said that the company does not plan to compete in what he described as the high-density microarray market.
"Individuals in the company have a very strong relationship with Toshiba historically, and we expect that will continue, but their role in the company is not a managerial role."
"From my assessment, [Toshiba's] technology is very good, the patent position is excellent, and it's a very unique opportunity," he said. "Our arrays are not in the high-density range," Labgold continued. "It's not like many arrays that people are using, especially for genotyping. Our technology is not walking in anybody else's space. It's creating its own little domain and I believe there are a lot of things that can be applied to it," he said.
One thing that is certain is that Labgold is well-schooled in the area of IP. He most recently was employed as a patent attorney specializing in biotech for the McLean, Va., office of law firm Patton Boggs. In fact, Labgold said that he will only serve as an "interim CEO" for as long as the company deems it appropriate. He will officially transition from Patton Boggs to Antara starting next month, but will remain affiliated with the law firm, he said.
Toshiba spokesperson Hiroko Mochida said the license covers the application of Toshiba-developed and patented DNA chips and electrochemical DNA analysis systems to in vitro diagnosis of disease in humans within the US. He declined to disclose which specific patents have been licensed to Antara.
Mochida also said that it was not the first time the company has licensed its chip IP, but declined to name other partners. He added that Toshiba is "undecided" about its future licensing strategy.
But aside from the perceived strength of Toshiba's IP, Labgold said that the technology, which Toshiba has already commercialized in Japan, has capabilities that could give it some traction in the marketplace.
According to Labgold, the platform that Antara will be offering will be similar to Toshiba's Genelyzer detection system, which the firm rolled out in 2004. Antara's system also uses complementary metal oxide semiconductor circuit technology, which the company claims can enable researchers to detect DNA at very low concentrations (see BAN 12/8/2004).
The system also uses electrochemical detection rather than fluorescence-based detection for genotyping, and does not use an amplification step in its assay, Labgold said. He added that Antara is in a "unique situation because Toshiba has already developed the instrument, the platform, and there are between 12 and 25 articles that have been published by peer-reviewed scientific journals [that cited the system] in Japan."
"The instrument already exists, the chips and platform already exist," Labgold said. He said that Antara plans to tweak Genelyzer's surface chemistry for future applications, but that the end result will be similar to what Toshiba currently offers in Japan.
Currently, Antara is funded by Eurus as well as some other undisclosed parties, Labgold said. Toshiba is not contributing financially to the project, but will manufacture the chips for Antara's system because "they have very good semiconductor fabrication capabilities."
"Toshiba is in the purest sense our licensor. They will not have any direct involvement in Antara," Labgold said. "Individuals in the company have a very strong relationship with Toshiba historically, and we expect that will continue, but their role in the company is not a managerial role," he added. Still, Antara and Toshiba do have a joint-development agreement, according to Labgold. "We will be continuing some of the advancement to future generations of the platform," he said.
Though Toshiba apparently does not wish to directly market its DNA chip technology in North America, the firm said last week that it is continuing to commercialize Genelyzer in Japan.
"Toshiba is continuing co-development of [its] DNA chip together with leading research institutes including universities in Japan," Mochida said. "We are considering various possibilities of DNA chip business at this stage."
Setting Up Antara
Toshiba's Mochida said that the company decided to license its patents to Antara because "Eurus Genomics, the parent company of Antara, is experienced in working in gene analysis in the US."
However, according to Labgold, Antara won't open its doors until May. "We will be formally hiring our first round of employees and they'll come on at the beginning of April," Labgold said.
"We will be fully in our facilities on May 1," he continued. "Our initial employee count will be 20 to 25 for April and May and then ramping that up through the summer time as we find the right people," he said.
Labgold added that the first priority for his company has been securing its IP license, but that it has been in discussions with potential hires over the past few months. According to the company's new website, it is seeking professionals with experience in in vitro diagnostics, organic chemistry, immunology, molecular biology, and microarray research.
— Justin Petrone ([email protected])