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Syntrix Will Use $115M in Illumina Royalties to Advance Biopharmaceutical Programs

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While Syntrix Biosystems may have played a role in developing foundational microarray technology, the company does not intend to use a large, recently awarded royalty payment from Illumina to expand its presence in the array market.

Instead, the privately held, Auburn, Wash.-based company, will continue to develop new therapeutic compounds to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, pain, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to CEO John Zebala.

Judge Benjamin Settle of the US District Court Western District of Washington last week ordered Illumina to pay $96 million in damages plus nearly $20 million in interest and damages, and set an 8 percent royalty rate "per infringing sale" of Illumina products based on what the court decided was Syntrix's IP.

In March, a jury determined that Illumina had infringed US Patent No. 6,951,682, "Porous Coatings Bearing Ligand Arrays and Use Thereof," held by Syntrix, by selling its BeadChip products (>BAN 3/9/2013).

At the time, Illumina vowed that it would appeal the jury's decision. A company spokesperson last week told BioArray News sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News that "it intends to file a post-trial motion asking the trial court to enter a judgment in its favor as a matter of law, or alternatively, to grant a new trial."

Syntrix filed its patent infringement suit against Illumina two and a half years ago (BAN 11/30/2010). In its original complaint, Syntrix alleged that Illumina became aware of its synthetic matrix and nanoceramic film technology while discussing a potential business relationship in 2000.

On its website, Syntrix describes its Synthetic Matrix technology as one of its "research platforms," touting the chips' use of fluorogenic probe chemistries as an alternative to DNA arrays sold by companies like Illumina, Affymetrix, and Agilent Technologies that suffer from "technical problems … in their manufacture and performance."

However, Zebala told BioArray News via email this week that Syntrix, which has 10 employees, is no longer developing or using that technology.

Syntrix's "original focus was on developing new microarray technologies and other genomics tool platforms," Zebala said. "The company redirected its focus to new drug development, and is now a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company."

He added that probe technologies from Syntrix's "legacy tool programs" have been made available through partners Glen Research, a company that sells reagents, and SuperNova Life Science, a wholly owned subsidiary of Syntrix. Neither firm, though, has a product that competes directly with Illumina, Affy, or Agilent's array lines.

Instead, Syntrix has decided to focus on medicinal chemistry and the clinical development of new therapeutic compounds to treat a number of diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, pain and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Zebala said.

"These efforts are supported by additional employees across an extensive network of contract research and contract manufacturing organizations, as well as through collaborations with researchers at universities and other non-profit centers across the country," he said.

Zebala noted that the firm has received four National Institutes of Health grants in the past two years to support its compound development programs. Last year, the NIH awarded Syntrix $1.1 million to develop SX-576, a small molecule antagonist for treating bronchopulmonary dysplasia and COPD; $574,000 to support a clinical trial of a compound that Syntrix believes could mitigate the negative effects of Trimadol, a widely prescribed analgesic; and $281,000 to advance the development of a new drug to treat multiple drug-resistant and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis. In 2011, Syntrix also received $295,000 to develop a theranostic for RA.

In addition to this funding, Zebala said that Syntrix recently completed a private financing round to "further its late-stage clinical program, currently in Phase 2," though he did not elaborate.

Syntrix and Sentrix

While Syntrix has no interest in the array market and does not use its own array technology, the firm has remained adamant in its claim that Illumina has infringed its IP by selling its BeadArray and Sentrix products.

In a statement discussing the recent order, Zebala said the firm's legal action was a "hard-fought battle every step of the way, as we insisted that the rights of the individual inventor be fully protected" and that "it should be clear to Illumina and others that the willful disregard of valid intellectual property is unacceptable in the United States."

This week, he noted that Illumina has sold products "marketed under the name 'Sentrix,' a one-letter variation of the name Syntrix, including the 'Sentrix BeadChip.'"

While the names of Zebala's firm and Illumina's products are similar, Illumina maintains that its array technology was developed in the laboratory of Tufts University professor David Walt, an Illumina cofounder and member of its scientific advisory board.

"Our BeadChip products are based on Dr. David Walt's technology that was licensed from Tufts University when Illumina was founded in 1998," Illumina CEO Jay Flatley said in March."We continue to feel very strongly about our position that Syntrix's allegations are without merit and that, ultimately, our position will be vindicated."

BioArray News spoke with Walt about the beginnings of Illumina's array technology during a visit to his lab in 2009 (BAN 9/8/2009).

Questions over the source of Illumina's array IP have landed the vendor in court before. In 2008, it paid Affymetrix a one-time $90 million payment to settle several suits brought by Affy in the US, Germany, and the UK, between 2004 and 2007 (BAN 1/8/2008).

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