Renee Tschumper, a technician in immunology research at the Mayo Clinic, stopped by the SuperArray booth at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting a few weeks ago in Orlando, Fla.
With a kind of joy rarely expressed for a commercial scientific research product, Tschumper inquired about the company’s product line — pathway-centric arrays spotted on nylon membranes packaged in disposable hybridization tubes.
“We do a lot with Affymetrix microarrays,” Tschumper explained. “We use these when we want a quick answer.”
In an industry where the behemoths are fighting the density battles, printing as many as six whole human genomes on a single slip of glass, SuperArray Bioscience of Frederick, Md., spots in quadruplicate 96 cDNA fragments from genes associated with a specific biological pathway, and four housekeeping genes and negative controls, on a piece of nylon. A set of two GEArray Q Series arrays costs $299.
As the microarray industry seeks growth from selling high-density microarrays and high-throughput systems, small companies like SuperArray are quietly contributing to a dynamic market providing ancillary products like the one-use GEArray.
The microarray industry is approaching a milestone $1 billion in revenues this year, according to market estimates that rely heavily on indexing the contributions of the major players. It is likely that the contribution of a 35-employee company like SuperArray does not move the economic needle noticeably.
Neither might that of VisionPoint Media of Raleigh, NC, an Internet marketing services company started by 38-year-old Diane Kuehn in her home three years ago in the aftermath of the dot-com and high-tech industry crash.
Today, she lists two microarray companies — Expression Analysis and NuGen — among a company client list that includes monster.com, Siemens, and the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson.
Kuehn may be onto a trend that reflects an industry becoming more mature, with embryonic companies moving forward from the stage where they are looking for beta testers for their technology, to actually reaching out to find buyers for their products.
To do that, they are trying electronic permission-based online marketing and electronic commerce services like that offered by this small company.
“Small biotech companies know that they want to use the Internet [for markging] but they don’t know how,” she told BioArray News.
The Dirty Little Secret of Microarray Analysis
Another type of service with a bit longer history in this field is that of the small-scale commercial analysis provider. Scott Magnuson, a former senior staff scientist at Abbott Laboratories who helped launch the CodeLink microarray product line for Motorola Life Sciences, along with two colleagues from Abbott, jumped onto this trend, launching GenUs Biosystems last April to offer gene-expression analysis using the CodeLink microarray platform.
Magnuson was working the GenUs booth at AACR, marketing his company’s services in person to cancer researchers.
The CodeLink platform, said Magnuson, can save on the hidden costs of microarray analysis — the need to do replicates in an experiment. With the CodeLink platform, there is no need to do replicates, he said. The catch is, he said, “you have to do the biological replicates.”
Agilent to Offer RNA Integrity Software
Agilent this May will offer, for a limited time, free downloads of a beta software for use with its 2100 Bioanalyzer product that integrates an RNA quality assessment called RNA Integrity Number (RIN), Odilo Mueller, assay manager for the company’s Life Science Business Unit, told BioArray News. This measurement, developed by Agilent, tests RNA degradation. It is determined by an algorithm that assigns a user-independent integrity number to each sample. RIN has been developed by examination of a large volume of RNA integrity data using neural network artificial intelligence methods. The RIN is derived independently of RNA concentration, of what instrument is used, and the origin of the RNA sample.
The software and assay are targeted mainly toward researchers who need to conduct protein quality control tests, Mueller said.
Details of the software offering will be found on the Agilent.com website in the Lab-on-a-Chip section, under RNA, Mueller said.
When the software is released, and is fully compliant with CFR Part 11 regulations, it will be sold. However, beta testers will be allowed to use and keep downloaded versions, Mueller said.
Phalanx Prepares for Fall Rollout
Taiwan’s Phalanx Biotech Group, the commercial entity preparing to enter the business of mass manufacturing microarrays, is targeting the fall for launch of its first product, a whole-human genome microarray, the company told BioArray News.
Phalanx is finalizing its inkjet-based microarray production line, which it says will be capable of printing thousands of 60-mer oligonucleotide microarrays daily. The company will have a capacity of 50,000 arrays per day, printed on glass and utilizing a three-dimensional substrate.
While gearing up, the company is also filling positions in research and development, and positions in sales and marketing.