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Telechem Touts New Data as It Takes Aim at Human-Genome Chip Market

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Telechem International will hit the market with its own whole-human-genome chip in August, taking aim at the four players already on the market. But Telechem believes it has a secret weapon that will be very attractive to potential customers: data culled from a brand new database that the firm says is the most complete of its kind.

Telechem’s human genome chip will have 25,000 distinct oligonucleotide elements on it, said spokesman Paul Haje in an interview with BioArray News. He said the new microarray is a “one-spot, one-gene design.”

He declined to disclose the name of the new database the genetic information came from, saying the firm would disclose that information later this summer. Haje confirmed, however, that some of the information comes from the new H-Invitational database that was recently released in Japan.

“They have put together, as a result of all this new data, the ultimate database that has completely sorted out the genes into the ones that are fully referenced. No redundancy, nothing overlapping, absolutely unique” he said.

The firm will be jumping into a relatively new niche in the microarray industry that was launched with the introduction of Affymetrix’s Human Genome U133 Plus 2.0 Array last fall. Since then, Agilent Technologies, Amersham Biosciences, and Applied Biosystems have all entered the fray, while San Diego-based Illumina and privately held Phalanx Biotech Group have plans to launch their own whole-human-genome chips in the near future.

Telechem is also planning the launch of a hematome chip that will contain all of the genes commonly found in human blood. Both the whole-human-genome and hematome chips are slated for release on August 9 at the Drug Discovery Technology conference in Boston.

The privately held, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company also plans to introduce a five-color fluorescent scanner, using technology developed by NASA/CalTech, which will read both chips and cost around $18,000. In addition, it will launch new labeling kits, called ArrayIt Red and ArrayIt Green, that will go head-to-head with Amersham’s Cy3 and Cy5 kits.

Driven By Data

Telechem’s approach to content sources seems to diverge somewhat from the standard set by the microarray leaders.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Agilent gets its content and annotations for the whole human-genome chip from the RefSeq, Golden Path, Ensembl and Incyte databases. In addition to the Celera database, ABI’s transcripts are curated from GenBank, RefSeq, as well as cDNA sequences from the Mammalian Gene Collection 1, and transcripts that were experimentally validated at ABI.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Affymetrix, which did not return calls seeking comment for this article, gets its probes from GenBank, dbEST, RefSeq and the Golden Path databases and the Washington University EST trace repository, as well as UniGene clusters. The whole-human-genome chips produced by Taiwan-based Phalanx contain 30,000 probes that were drawn from the UniGene clusters and RefSeq.

Pricing Competition

Telechem plans on selling the whole-human-genome chip at the “sub-$500” range.

Currently, Agilent prices its whole human-genome chip at $750, but company spokeswoman Chris-tina Maehr said customers can get discounts based on volume. The firm also discounts chips for research consortiums and academic groups, bringing the average price for the chip down to approximately $500.

ABI, based in Foster City, Calif., sells its chip for $625, with discounts applying to volume purchases. But ABI also requires the purchase of its Expression Array System, which sells for $179,000.

As an incentive to quickly reel in customers, Phalanx is offering an introductory price of $100 per chip for minimum purchases of 100 chips. Luke Chen, the company’s vice president for marketing and development, told BioArray News last month that outside of the US, Japan, and certain countries in Europe, many scientists worldwide cannot afford to use microarray technology (see BAN 6/9/2004).

Similarly, Illumina recently announced that its whole-human-genome arrays, which are slated for release sometime within the next few months, would be sold for as low as $100 per array. The firm’s Sentrix Human WG-6 BeadChip contains probes to query roughly 48,000 transcripts per sample at a price of $160 for each of the six samples. Its Sentrix Human RS-8 will have probe sequences to query eight samples, each for 24,000 transcripts derived from the RefSeq database, at a price of $100 per sample.

But, according to Haje, Telechem is not going to compete on price, but rather on the non-redundant feature of the data. “We think that the price has been set between Agilent and ABI. We think the most important issue here is what is not on the chip. It’s what’s not there that makes it so useful.”

“Primarily, we are competing on technology and applications,” Agilent’s Maehr told BioArray News. “Price, of course, is always a consideration. You can’t price yourself out of the market.”

She continued, “As people are learning more about gene expression and doing various applications, they are finding that microarrays from different providers sometimes are more suited to one application or another. I think that might be part of the differentiation we’ll start to see in the marketplace.”

While Telechem is getting its data from a new database, Agilent and ABI said they will rely on market demands in determining when they will update the data on their chips.

ABI spokesperson Lori Murray said ABI plans to update its whole-human-genome microarray with additional probes for new genes as they are discovered. She noted that the firm plans to synchronize updates to the Celera Genomics Human Genome Database approximately once every three months.

“In some cases people would like to stick with what they have longer if the content hasn’t changed very much,” Agilent’s Maehr said.

This view was echoed by Te-Hua Tearina Chu, director of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Microarray Shared Research Facility in New York City. She said that sometimes researchers are comfortable with the platform and the arrays they already use, and there isn’t much incentive to switch.

The Microarray Shared Research Facility has been offering Affymetrix’s human genome chip, but it isn’t because the facility is wed to the GeneChip platform, said Chu. The facility offers researchers other platforms and microarrays from other manufacturers.

She said that the reason for choosing one array over another frequently has to do with the reputation of the array and the manufacturer. But she also noted that price can make a difference. “Right now, there isn’t much difference in price between the arrays that are out there,” she said.

But Chu suggested that if manufacturers could get the price for the whole-human-genome arrays down below the $100 mark, that might be a significant incentive for researchers to try a new technology.

Phalanx and Illumina are hoping she is right, while Telechem is betting the technology will sell itself.

—EW

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