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Taiwan’s Phalanx Biotech Debuts OneArray Express Program to Reach US Academics

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Phalanx Biotech, a Taiwanese company that debuted whole-genome human and mouse chips for expression studies in Asia last year, has launched a partnership program targeted to reach core labs in North America, a company official said this week.
 
The program, called OneArray Express, stocks core labs with large supplies of Phalanx’s chips on-site, therefore eliminating shipping and handling costs. The set-up enables Phalanx to offer its OneArray chips for less than competitors’.
 
Luke Chen, Phalanx’s vice president of sales and marketing, told BioArray News that his firm’s chips cost $79, compared with prices of more than $150 for arrays made by rivals like Illumina, Agilent Technologies, and Affymetrix. The company expects this lower price will help it attract cash-strapped academics.
 
Customers “can just place an order, walk over, and pick it up,” said Chen. “Within an hour they should have arrays and be ready to run experiments. The goal is to make it easy and to make it cheaper for users so they don’t have to pay additional shipping costs, et cetera.”
 
“Having the lower price takes a lot of fear out of people using arrays,” he added. “It is a pleasant surprise to see postdocs and scientists that are willing to try this technology. Scientists used to have to worry that one screw up could cost them $500. They don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
 
He said Phalanx has recently signed agreements with core facilities at Oklahoma State University, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Harvard Medical School. Specifically, Phalanx’s mouse and human OneArrays are now available through OSU’s Microarray Core Facility, Nebraska Medical Center’s DNA Microarray Core Facility, and Harvard’s Lab for Innovative Translational Technologies.
 
The company is also developing a whole-genome rat array and a microRNA array, both of which are scheduled to be launched in the third quarter. In terms of the miRNA chip, Chen said that there is “a lot of interest in the scientific community to work on a platform like this,” and that because miRNA content is “pretty mature” it will be easy to adopt the chip into Phalanx’s product development strategy.
 
Chen said that Phalanx is also in discussions with several other partners that could join the program in coming months. The OneArray Express model is also being put in place in Asia, where Phalanx has begun to penetrate the developing Taiwanese and Chinese array markets.
 
However, Phalanx has decided to use distributors to tackle the European market, and has distribution partnerships in place with Prague-based Central European Biosystems for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, and Belgium-based Eurogentec, which covers the rest of the European market.
 
“In the US we are going direct so we are building up the OneArray Express model,” Chen said. “We are doing the same in Taiwan and these are the two areas where we are going direct. In the other regions, because they are different in culture and reaching the customers, we have to leverage the resources of our partners.”
 

“Scientists used to have to worry that one screw-up could cost them $500. Now they don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

Reaching those customers, though, has proven difficult. Phalanx is entering the expression market at a time when players like GE Healthcare and Applied Biosystems have decided to exit it (see BAN 1/2/2008).
 
The market may also be impacted by the emergence of digital gene-expression applications performed on next-generation sequencers. Illumina, which sells both whole-genome expression arrays for human, mouse, and rat, as well as DGE applications for use on its Genome Analyzer, has forecasted that the real future growth in the expression market lies through DGE, not the traditional arrays that Phalanx is selling (see BAN 2/12/2008).
 
Chen conceded that the expression market is “a little bit slow,” but said that Phalanx’s niche in it will not come by stealing market share from companies like Affy, but by bringing in new customers that have previously viewed array technology as too expensive.
 
Winston Kuo, director of Harvard’s Laboratory for Innovative Translational Technologies, said that he has decided to offer Phalanx’s chips to Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Medical School researchers because of the platform’s performance and price.
 
“We have evaluated in-house both the mouse and human OneArrays, using our mouse retina and cortex samples and Microarray Quality Control samples, respectively,” Kuo told BioArray News in an e-mail this week.
 
“The results were very comparable to the commonly used microarray platforms like Affymetrix and Illumina, and correlated well to QRT-PCR,” he said. Also, “given the tough funding situation, Phalanx’s OneArray has been ideal platform for our faculty, both at the junior and senior levels,” Kuo said.
 
According to Kuo, studies that use the OpenArray range from developmental biology to pathogen-detection projects. He said that LITT is also in the midst of evaluating other platforms, including Febit’s Geniom arrayer, NanoString Technologies’ nCounter System, Roche NimbleGen arrays, and Fluidigm’s BioMark system.  
 
“These technologies are offered at LITT and are accessible to the Harvard Medical School research community,” he said. “Phalanx OneArray is a very cost-effective ‘open-system’ microarray platform, and many of our users have been very satisfied with their results.”
 
OSU’s Peter Hoyt told BioArray News in an e-mail this week that his core has received a “tremendous response” from the OSU research community and a “delayed response” from researchers outside of OSU who “are finding it hard to believe a $79 Human Array could be very good.”
 
According to Hoyt, typical Phalanx users have been “those who want to include more arrays in their research, want to include more replicates, want to additionally use miRNA arrays, or want to include more tissue types within a single proposal.”
According to Chen, it is likely that the bulk of Phalanx’s customers will come out of the academic community and the OneArray Express program is specifically targeting academics. He said that reaching pharmaceutical companies and biotechs would be harder because “most companies have already selected a name brand platform.”
 
However the company believes that if it can build a loyal customer base in academia, pharmas and biotechs will eventually also adopt its platform.