Affymetrix’s announcement last week that it plans to acquire Panomics for $73 million in cash did not go unnoticed by Panomics’ customers, several of whom this week said they were surprised by the move and expressed concern about how the deal may impact their ongoing research programs.
Founded in 2000, Panomics offers products for in situ RNA, RNA, DNA, protein, and cell analysis. Its flagship platform, QuantiGene, is based on branched DNA technology and delivers quantitative gene-expression analysis.
Panomics currently offers QuantiGene assays in both single-plex and multiplex formats, and has 5,600 instruments installed worldwide.
Affy’s acquisition of Panomics is expected to close by the end of the year, subject to closing conditions and regulatory approvals. Affymetrix said it will discuss the impact of the acquisition during its 2008 year-end earnings call next year.
Curtis Klaassen, a researcher at the University of Kansas Medical Center, this week said he is “quite concerned” about the pending acquisition.
“I am very impressed with Panomics products, and I hope Affymetrix continues to provide the same products as Panomics,” he said.
Klaassen’s lab has been using QuantiGene for pharmacology, toxicology, and therapeutics studies. Since adopting the tool, Klaassen and affiliated researchers have published a number of papers that cite it.
Describing his lab’s work, Klaassen said its researchers “are interested in drug processing genes: genes that help in the distribution and absorption and excretion of foreign chemicals, mainly drugs and other environmental chemicals.
“Basically, we do a lot of customized gene arrays; just looking at the genes we are interested in,” said Klaassen. ”At the present time we have approximately 300 genes of interest. We can make various arrays using their technology to study those 300 genes rather than 30,000 genes.
“It has worked well for us; we are very happy with it,” he added.
Klaassen said that as long as Affy allows Panomics to continue supporting its customers, it should have a minimal effect on his research. He also said that it was unlikely the acquisition would compel him to switch to Affymetrix arrays or use Affy chips as a discovery tool in the future.
“Most of Affy’s technology is set up to do the whole genome rather than specific genes like we are interested in, and branched DNA technology works very nice here,” Klaassen said. “I think, right now, I have no interest in expanding further for my research. They might also choose to use this branched DNA technology in their systems as well, but I have no plans of doing additional methodology in the short term.”
“It seems to me that it would be more Panomics helping Affy, than Affy helping Panomics.”
One area where Klaassen speculated Affy may be able to help expand Panomics’ customer base is in price. He said it typically costs him $2 to survey a gene using the QuantiGene platform. “Some arrays we have about 30 genes, so we can do that for $60. For five samples for five different animals, we can do that for $500,” he said.
John Rossi, a professor of molecular biology at the Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope in Duarte, Calif., this week told BioArray News that he was a “little surprised” by the acquisition announcement but that it may make sense to market the technologies together.
“Affy has a lot of nucleic-hybridization experience, and Panomics’ whole assay is based on that,” Rossi said. “If somehow they can combine two platforms, then that would be beneficial,” he said. “It seems to me that it would be more Panomics helping Affy than Affy helping Panomics because they really have that market squared in.”
Rossi’s lab uses QuantiGene assays for HIV detection, and he described the technology as “very linear” and “very easy from the technician’s point of view.” Rossi began using Panomics’ technology in 2005 for target knockdown detection.
“It was for a limited amount of stuff, we didn’t have unique target, and it wasn’t economical for us,” Rossi said. “But for HIV it is great. It is the same cost as using an antigen-based assay but it is much easier for the technician,” he said. “It is not as error-prone as the other methods, and we really like it a lot.”
Like Klaassen, Rossi lauded QuantiGene’s flexibility and Panomics’ overall customer service. “They are very supportive of our design questions; they have come out to the lab and helped us work through the design, so they are a great company,” Rossi said. “We really like them a lot.”
Unlike Klaassen, though, Rossi is familiar with Affy’s technology. “We have used Affy’s platform for microarray analyses for looking at perturbations of targets,” he said. “We have also used Affy to look at off-target effects using mRNA genomic arrays. These two platforms could possibly be used together, sure.”
Low to Mid-Plex
Affy President and incoming CEO Kevin King said in a statement last week that the acquisition is aimed at strengthening Affymetrix' position in the high-growth validation and routine-testing market segments.
"As one company, we will be able to serve a much larger customer base around the world with a broader product portfolio that offers a more complete analysis workflow, enabling customers to perform experiments not possible on any other platform," King said.
The purchase is the third for Affy in one year, and part of an overall strategy to move the array maker from selling a single technology for use in discovery to providing multiple technology platforms that support discovery through target validation.
Affy bought Cleveland, Ohio-based reagent manufacturer USB for $75 million in January, and spent $25 million to acquire Bay Area start-up True Materials in July (see BAN 2/5/2008, BAN 8/12/2008).
Affy said it believes Panomics’ products will complement True Materials’ liquid array technology, “enabling Affymetrix to address low- to mid-plex genetic analysis requirements more effectively in the future.”
True Materials has developed a digitally encoded microparticle technology that will enable the array manufacturer to enter low to mid-multiplex markets and compete with bead-based platforms. Affy plans to make the technology available sometime next year.