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Seeing a Future in Content Chips, Full Moon To Target Pharma with Antibody Array Debut

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Full Moon Biosystems, a privately owned West Coast array firm that specializes in surface chemistry and array printing, this month decided to expand its business into the content side of the market by offering a suite of antibody arrays for researchers.
 
Last week at IBC Life Sciences’ Discovery 2 Diagnostics conference in Philadelphia, Full Moon launched its line of Human Pathway-Focused Antibody Arrays, including theme arrays for cytokine, stem cell, and hormonal research. The suite also includes phosphorylation antibody arrays, which comprise cytoskeletal, neuroscience, and cell cycle chips; and multiplex antibody arrays, including chips for scientists studying p53, cancer markers, and insulin/glucose. In total, Full Moon has debuted 30 antibody arrays. Additional information on each array is available on the firm’s website.
 
According to a company official, the pathway-focused antibody arrays represent a sea change in Full Moon Bio’s business as it embraces what it believes to be the next wave in microarray technology and looks to expand beyond its traditional role as a substrate provider.
 
Shannon Zhang, Full Moon’s vice president, told BioArray News in an e-mail this week that the company’s business plan has always included a move into the content array market, which is dominated by large manufacturers like Affymetrix, Illumina, and Agilent Technologies. Rather than compete with those firms head-to-head, however, she said that the firm’s dialog with its customers pointed toward a business opportunity for antibody arrays, as opposed to DNA arrays.
 
Zhang wrote that the DNA array market has become “very competitive” as the major players have reduced prices in recent years. In addition, she said, there are significant intellectual property hurdles for newer players that wish to enter the DNA array space.
 
Instead, Full Moon decided to draw on business relationships forged through its slides business to chart the next phase of product development. “In the past few years, we have worked on multiple antibody array projects with several research institutes,” Zhang wrote.
 
“The partnerships allow us to gain access to a wide collection of high-quality antibodies, including unique phosphorylation antibodies,” she wrote. “Combining [that] with our expertise in surface chemistry and array printing, we are able to provide a simple and affordable solution for high-throughput analysis of proteins,” Zhang added.
 
Driving Full Moon’s expectation of market success is an underlying belief that the array market will soon graduate from gene-level arrays to protein-level arrays, especially among pharma customers. Full Moon President Yaping Zong told BioArray News in a separate interview last week that pharmaceutical companies have shown the greatest interest in the firm’s new antibody line.
 
“Proteins are more linked to human disease. The gene-to-disease relationship is not one-to-one, so proteins are more practical, more useful,” Zong said. “Pharmaceutical companies have shown the main interest. They want to see the protein levels of cells after being treated with drugs. Some professors as well would like to study the effects of certain enzymes on proteins,” he added.
 
The rationale behind launching 30 chips all at once is that Full Moon wants to saturate the market with antibody arrays, maximizing opportunities for potential customers. “We want to fully utilize our antibody resources and give choices to the users,” Zhang wrote this week.
 
OEM Antibodies
 
While the 30 antibody arrays launched by Full Moon represent the company’s first real foray into the content array market, the company does have some experience selling content as a distributor for original equipment-manufactured tissue microarrays. According to Zhang, the TMAs are manufactured by an undisclosed provider but bear the Full Moon name.
 

“The gene-to-disease relationship is not one-to-one, so proteins are more practical, more useful.”

The company’s antibody arrays are produced through a similar relationship, except in this case it is the antibodies that are designed and manufactured by an undisclosed OEM provider. Full Moon then prints the arrays and the shop handles sales both directly and through distributors in Europe and Japan. Zhang said that Full Moon’s surface chemistry and biology teams collaborated on designing the new arrays.
 
Zhang added that Full Moon decided to work with an outside partner to develop the arrays because of the cost of designing new chips, and that the company will forge similar partnerships with other firms to grow its antibody array menu in the future.
 
“We are definitely going to put more money and effort into expanding our offering,” she wrote.
 
Zhang said that Full Moon will market the chips in the US first and will rely on distributors for international sales. “We have already got some good response in Japan and Europe,” she said.
 
A Market for Antibody Arrays?
 
While the market for antibody arrays is typically considered nascent, Full Moon is not the first slide company to make the move from substrates to content. Two examples of other firms that have made the jump are Whatman and GenTel Biosciences.
 
In Whatman’s case, the firm launched its CombiChip for autoimmune diseases one year ago after spending years selling nitrocellulose-coated slides to the proteomics field (see BAN 9/26/2006).
 
Madison, Wis.-based GenTel has followed a similar course with some success. The firm, which also specialized in nitrocellulose-coated slides for protein array applications, last year changed course and became a protein array company. This year, the firm’s connections to pharma paid off when GlaxoSmithKline decided to sell its internal protein array platform and four proprietary assays to GenTel (see BAN 3/13/2007).
 
“DNA microarrays have enabled extensive research at the genomic level in the past 10 years,” wrote Zhang. However, she noted, the opportunity for future growth is elsewhere: “For researchers, especially those in diagnostic or therapeutic research, after studying the genes, the next step is to look at the protein expression.”

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