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Seeing Dollar Signs in Automation, GenTel Initiates Co-Marketing Alliance With Tecan

In an effort to raise its profile among pharmaceutical and biotech R&D spenders, GenTel BioSciences has inked a co-marketing deal with Swiss tool vendor Tecan, according to a company official.
Robert Negm, GenTel’s vice president of business development, told BioArray News last week that GenTel will now be able to market its protein arrays in a 96-well, automated format together with Tecan’s Laser Scanner Reloaded, an offering that GenTel believes will grow its business with pharmas and biotechs.
GenTel’s move is the latest example of how array companies are waking up to demand from pharma clients for greater automation. It also comes at a time when other array companies, like Affymetrix, are similarly launching arrays in automated, 96-well formats (see BAN 2/13/2007).
“We are developing a strategic alliance to co-market [Tecan’s] instruments with our 1X3-inch nitrocellulose slides or our 3X5-inch slides,” Negm said. “Either way the customers have the option to use a 96-well plate.”
Negm said that most protein arrays sold on the market today are only available in a 1X3-inch format, a design that academic customers have welcomed, but that has wound up limiting adoption by pharmaceutical and biotech researchers.
“What we’re learning in the marketplace is that traditionally there’s been this barrier for the protein microarray community because they have to work on this classic microscope slide because that’s the way the genomics folks have been doing it all along,” Negm said. “Pharmaceuticals can’t have this clunky way of processing multiplex immunoassays on a 1X3-inch slide anymore.”
Negm said that GenTel will now be able to offer customers protein arrays in a 1X3-inch format, or arrays printed on the company’s nitrocellulose-coated 3X5-inch plates, which can be attached to 96-well plates and used in a 96-well format.
“Ultimately it will have the same look and feel and stackability of an [Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay] plate, which allows us to then have automation,” he said.
“That’s the whole key to the protein array game, because scientists need to automate because if they don’t do that they’ll never have the reproducibility you need to create precise measurements,” Negm said. “That’s what pharmaceutical companies need. They don’t need subjective, human error-prone measurements.”
Negm acknowledged that one reason that GenTel had decided to initiate the alliance with Tecan was due to demand from its own customers, such as GlaxoSmithKline.
“We actually built this because Glaxo said to us that they needed automation and that they needed it on a 96-well format,” he said. “That’s where we want a slide that was high-throughput screening amenable that attached to a 96-well plate.”
Other microarray companies are experiencing demand for the 96-well, automated format. During the firm’s fourth-quarter conference call this month, Affymetrix CEO Stephen Fodor said that the company has experienced increased customer demand for its 96-well product, and that it has been increasing its production (see BAN 2/13/2007).
Another Alliance for Tecan
Although Tecan regularly takes part in co-marketing alliances with chip shops — for example, the company has a similar deal with UK array firm Procognia — the success of the agreements depend on “how much noise a company like GenTel makes about it,” said Ralph Beneke, microarray product manager at Tecan.
Beneke told BioArray News last week that Tecan values the deals because they increase “visibility and awareness” for the system. “If GenTel and their kits are running on their system and they’re fine with this and they recommend it to their customers in service or to purchase a whole system, this is something we really value because we can say, ‘Here’s a reference, this kit is running on our system.’ It makes our life easier,” Beneke said.
He also said that he expected similar alliances in the future as companies like GenTel try to reach key markets like pharma R&D and that Tecan was developing next-generation tools to take advantage of that.
“We can see that the trend in the array world is going to more and more segmentation to reduce the cost for the end users,” Beneke said. “This started with GenTel in the plate business, and now you can see it in the larger industry players like Agilent or Illumina,” he added.
Tecan is also co-marketing its tools with Agilent. For example, though they compete in the scanner market, Agilent currently states on its website that its oligo comparative genomic hybridization arrays are suitable for use with Tecan’s automated HS Pro Hybridization System.
Beneke also said that the GenTel alliance could be extended beyond the co-marketing of the laser scanner. “Currently, I think this alliance is relying on the laser scanner, but this can be extended because in their workflow they need some part of small or large-scale liquid-handling, which can be handled by some Tecan instruments like the liquid-handling robotic workstation,” he said.
“And so if it comes to arrays, which they can do on slides, we have a slide a processor for hybridization, washing, and drying. So it can be more instrumentation; a whole suite,” he added.

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