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Though ABI Now Owns Ambion, the Future of Its GE-Manufactured miRNA Arrays Remains Unclear


Applied Biosystems last week completed its acquisition of Ambion's research products division, paying $273 million in cash for the chance to use the company's portfolio of sample prep, RNAi, microRNA, and gene-expression and array products to grow sales of consumables.

Ambion's diagnostics and service businesses will become a standalone company, and ABI will begin selling the company's products worldwide, according to ABI.

Yet what remains unresolved is ABI's strategy for the Austin, Texas-based company's MirVana miRNA microarrays, which are manufactured by GE Healthcare on its CodeLink platform with probes targeting a selection of human, mouse, and rat miRNAs.

Because ABI markets its own microarray technology, it could choose to migrate Ambion's miRNA content to its own array platform. So far, ABI said it will sell Ambion's MirVana arrays "as is," and the company declined to discuss the future of the product when pressed this week.

"We can not address our future plans for MirVana at this time," Peter Dansky, Applied Biosystems' vice president and general manager of its PCR Consumables & DNA Synthesis Business, wrote BioArray News in an e-mail this week.

"We expect AB's global sales and marketing channel to accelerate the sales of all Ambion products, including the MirVana arrays."

Dansky also said that ABI is not prepared to comment on the future of other RNA products acquired with Ambion. An ABI spokeperson told BioArray News in a follow-up e-mail that the company "does not want to comment on future plans, including moving the MirVana array content on the array platform, at this point."

GE and Ambion had announced the deal to manufacture the MirVana arrays in October 2005 (see BAN 10/5/2005).

A spokesperson for Ambion declined to comment on the future of the MirVana arrays, while representatives from GE Healthcare's CodeLink unit did not reply to phone calls and e-mails by press time.

'Business as Usual,' at Least 'For the Moment'

For the moment, "business as usual" appears to be ABI's answer to users' questions about how ABI's molecular biology division plans to integrate Ambion's 300-employee business . Shortly after the acquisition was completed last week, ABI circulated a list of answers to frequently asked questions to inform current Ambion and ABI customers and investors how the acquisition would affect them.

In the document, ABI said Ambion will continue to function as its own business, and that there will be no noticeable change in product and technical support at either company.

"For the moment, it will continue to be business as usual as your existing contacts for order management and product/technical support within both Ambion and Applied Biosystems will be maintained," ABI stated in its letter.

"There will be no change in product or technical support for your products and services. All existing support channels and processes will continue to be used for customer support," the company said.

Dansky said that one change that will be immediate is that Ambion's products, originally distributed by Ambion in the US and by third-party distributors abroad, will now be delivered through ABI's direct sales and service forces in North America, Asia Pacific, and Europe.

"We expect AB's global sales and marketing channel to accelerate the sales of all Ambion products, including the MirVana arrays," Dansky told BioArray News.

In addition, according to a statement posted on Ambion's website, ABI said it believes that "Ambion's strong brand recognition will help increase sales of both Applied Biosystems and Ambion consumable products via AB's global channels."

"For the moment, it will continue to be business as usual as … existing contacts for order management and product/technical support within both Ambion and Applied Biosystems will be maintained."

Though ABI did not single out the MirVana product line, the company did say on Ambion's website that it will market the technologies acquired with Ambion as "a broader array of complementary products from a single source." Indeed, ABI's current microarray offerings, which include whole-genome human, mouse, and rat chips for use on its Expression Array System, match up with the MirVana arrays, which also offer miRNA content for human, mouse, and rat, as well as Ambion's in-house developed microRNAs, called Ambi-miRs.

Dansky also said this week that ABI has plans to grow its newly acquired Ambion unit from its current size in the future. "AB expects the Ambion business to grow substantially, and for Austin to [stand out] within our consumables business," he said

A New Angle on the miRNA Array Market

The most significant news for Ambion's competitors in the developing miRNA array market may be the fact that ABI will now be distributing the MirVana arrays. That means that the market, which includes rival miRNA arrays from CombiMatrix, Invitrogen, and Exiqon, may be defined not only by content and price, but also by global customer access to sales and technical support.

CombiMatrix, which launched its line of species-specific and compendium miRNA arrays in January, currently handles direct sales in the US, but has hired third parties to distribute its products in Europe and Asia (see BAN 1/10/06). Copenhagen, Denmark-based Exiqon, which launched its miRCURY miRNA compendium array in December 2005, sells and supports its tools in Europe and other regional markets through its Danish office, and recently opened a 10-person sales and support office near Boston earlier this year (see BAN 11/23/2006). Invitrogen, which launched its NCode Multi-Species miRNA Array Platform in November 2005, sells and supports its products worldwide (see BAN 11/16/2005).

Another noteworthy shift in the miRNA market is that ABI will now be able to deliver miRNA products via both arrays and RT-PCR . The company launched RT-PCR-based TaqMan assays for miRNA analysis in September 2005. However, because ABI's newly acquired MirVana array is manufactured on GE Healthcare's CodeLink platform, customers may not be able to directly compare data gathered from the TaqMan and MirVana platforms in their microRNA research.

— Justin Petrone ([email protected])

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