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Telechem to Unveil Low-Cost Microarray Scanner; One of Several Launches This Fall

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Telechem International is gearing up to launch a new microarray scanner that will break the $20,000 barrier, offering smaller labs a chance to analyze their own microarray experiments.

The firm is one of several microarray scanner manufacturers releasing new products this fall. The others include Tecan, Axon, PerkinElmer, and Applied Precision.

Telechem expects to introduce the new 10 µm scanner in the fourth quarter at a price of $18,500 — significantly lower than the price for standard 10 µm scanners on the market. The system comes with modules optimized for the most common labels of interest: fluorescein, Cy3, Cy5, rhodamine, allophycocyanin, ethidium bromide, the Alexa fluors, and several GFP variants, which according to Telechem spokesman Paul Haje, is an industry first.

“We’ve achieved the Holy Grail!” exclaimed Haje in his usual modest assessment of developments at Telechem.

“It’s a scanner that sells for less than $20,000 that does up to seven colors. That’s really important because that’s seven different excitation wavelengths ranging from the deep blue to red, as well as white light,” Haje said.

He noted that the reason for seven colors was to position the product for further use in diagnostics. “At some point, every lab in the country is going to need a little diagnostics scanner,” Haje said. “We need to be poised. We need to be out there for a year and a half or so. Starting out with the research and corporate science and technology — applications that aren’t as restrictive as diagnostics — gives the chance for the product to mature as well as go through the necessary clearances so that it could be used in the diagnostics and screening setting.”

With the launch, Telechem is taking aim at several players, including Axon Instruments, Applied Precision, Bio-Rad, and PerkinElmer, which all sell 10 µm microarray scanners at a higher price, mainly because their scanners are capable of higher resolution.

Most of the microarray scanner manufacturers declined to provide pricing information for this article, but one that did is Axon, which was acquired earlier this year by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Molecular Devices. The list price on an entry-level Axon scanner capable of 10 µm resolution is $32,000, according to Siobhan Pickett, the company’s director of genomic systems. But that scanner is capable of 5 µm resolution as well. The same goes for Agilent’s high-throughput scanner, which is adjustable down to 5 µm, and has other features pushing its price up to $120,000.

Some industry observers also suggested that, given advances in scanner technology and automation, a 10 µm system may soon be out of date. However, Haje said the lower-priced 10 µm scanner “is a matter of giving researchers the best possible result they could get at a price point that makes a difference on whether they get to do an experiment or not.”

Telechem’s strategy of entering the market at a lower pricing point follows a similar tack it took a few years ago with its SpotBot arrayer, which is a portable instrument aimed at low-throughput research and development users. It also follows Telechem’s strategy of introducing products aimed at giving researchers more control over their experiments. According to Haje, that is one of the reasons the SpotBot caught on.

“Many of the researchers that bought them had core facilities, [but] they wanted a companion,” Haje said. “They wanted to control their experiment, and keep the data secret until they were ready to present. The nice thing about this [scanner] is it’s a powerful tool and brings to the scientist the ability to control their experiment until they’re ready to share the results ... [and] it is delivered at the right price point.”

Telechem’s new scanner has been in development since 2000. “The actual chips and light sources you would have used in 2000 weren’t suitable for the efficiency and the price point we wanted to achieve with this,” Haje said. “Now, everything has caught up. There’s been a real acceleration in imaging chips ... [and] up until now the light issues have been that they were very hot, too bright. Now there’s a new light source that has matured just in the last year or so,” and it has been incorporated into the new scanner.

To be sure, price is frequently not the primary factor when researchers are looking to buy. The scanner’s resolution, software, throughput ability, technical support, and the number of lasers it has and whether the lasers can scan simultaneously, are all issues purchasers consider.

“The versatility of the scanner, in terms of what you’re going to do with it,” also matters, according to George Dimopoulos, a group leader in the department of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “There are scanners that can scan only microarray slides and there are other scanners now that can scan anything from a microscope slide to a microtiter well plate,” he told BioArray News. “It depends on what the user is looking for.”

He added, “If the quality of the image [provided by lower-cost scanners] is the same or comparable to expensive scanners, or if they’re a bit slower, then that’s fine. The important thing is to make sure that the quality is not compromised by the low price.”

One of Several Scanner Launches

While Telechem is targeting a price-sensitive market, it is not the only firm to roll out a new scanner this season. Swiss firm Tecan earlier this month launched a new line of automated microarray scanners, the LS Reloaded series. The system provides variable scan resolution settings of 4 µm, 6 µm, 10 µm, 20 µm, and 40 µm. A Tecan representative said the price of the system would vary according to its configuration, but he declined to provide a range.

The new scanners are available with two, three, or four lasers that allow for simultaneous scanning. The LS Reloaded series also has an automated throughput capability of up to 200 microarray slides or 50 microplates.

Axon also recently launched an automated scanner, the GenePix Autoloader 4200L, which can perform automated analysis of 1 to 36 slides utilizing the firm’s GenePix Pro software. The GenePix scanners are adjustable from 5 µm resolution to 100 µm resolution.

Axon’s Pickett told BioArray News, “Our entry-level scanner, which is the GenePix Personal 4100A, has all the performance characteristics of our other scanners without all the bells and whistles. That one’s been on the market a couple of years, but we’ve been seeing an increased need for automation.”

Two firms, Wellesley, Mass.-based PerkinElmer and Issaquah, Wash.-based Applied Precision, are scheduled to introduce new microarray scanners this week at IBC’s annual Chips to Hits conference in Boston.

Joseph Victor, senior vice president of life sciences at Applied Precision, told BioArray News’ sister publication Inside BioAssays that the company would launch a 5 µm scanner at the conference. The firm currently sells a microarray scanner, the ArrayWorks, which provides resolution of 10 µm but also is capable of 3.25 µm resolution, for $60,000-$70,000.

PerkinElmer also will release a new 5 µm scanner, the ScanArray GX, at Chips to Hits. Sandra Rasmussen, business manager of functional genomics and proteomics at the firm, said she would not disclose pricing information for the new scanner, but, “I would say we are competitive with the lower-end models that are currently on the market.”

She said the ScanArray GX is a two-laser system and works with PerkinElmer’s ScanArray Express version 3.0 software, which it recently released.

PerkinElmer this week also is rolling out its ProScanArray and ProScanArray HT scanners for higher-throughput experiments. “Those are targeted at customers who are interested in doing not just traditional gene expression microarrays but are looking to expand their applications — doing protein arrays and/or tissue arrays and require the ability to use dyes other than just dyes that are excitable and detected by red and green lasers,” Rasmussen said.

The ProScanArray products are upgradable from one laser to four lasers and incorporate new software, which, according to Rasmussen, integrates capabilities for doing genomic arrays as well as doing absolute quantitation.

— EW

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