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UBS Global Life Sciences Conference Short on Suprises, Long on Microarray Market Prospects


There were no surprises or big announcements from the major microarray players at the UBS Global Life Sciences Conferences held in New York last week, but a few of them touted new technologies or products expected to launch in the upcoming quarters.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Affymetrix, the microarray market leader, is expected to launch a new high-throughput platform that will permit researchers to automate sample preparation for GeneChip analyses. It will bear both companies’ logos and incorporate Caliper Life Sciences’ Sciclone liquid handling station, Twister microplate handling robot, and an MJ Research Thermocycler. The new platform will be sold by Affymetrix under an OEM agreement but will be serviced by Caliper, according to Caliper officials.

The price for the entire system will start at $200,000 and go up to $600,000 for higher-throughput applications, Caliper CEO Kevin Hrusovsky told investors at the meeting. A standalone Sciclone system, he said, costs approximately $100,000-$120,000.

At present, Caliper is busy programming the Sciclone to be able to run applications that are tailored to Affymetrix’s needs. “We are writing the code now,” he said.

Further down the line, Hrusovsky said, Caliper and Affymetrix are thinking about developing an automated platform, based on the Sciclone system, for its RNA quality control chips, which are currently sold by Agilent Technologies on its 2100 Bioanalyzer platform. These chips, he said, are very popular among microarray users, many of whom own an Agilent 2100 station.

Gregory Schiffman, Affymetrix’s senior vice president and CFO, said during his presentation that the company plans to launch a 500K SNP chip either later this year or early next year and a 1 million SNP chip in about 18 months. “We think we’re making great inroads [in genotyping],” Schiffman said. “It’s a fast growing market.”

He also said the firm expects to be the first to launch a microarray-based diagnostic platform in the US, but could not provide a timeframe on when Affymetrix would file for approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Schiffman said Affymetrix was working with the FDA, but its role was more to stay out of Roche’s way in trying to get approval for its AmpliChip.

Affymetrix and Roche recently received European Union clearance to market the first microarray platform and chip, respectively, for in vitro diagnostic purposes. (see BAN 9/8/2004)

Schiffman also said that despite increased competition in the gene expression products space, particularly from GE Healthcare, Agilent and Applied Biosystems, the company’s sales have not been affected.


Amit Kumar, president and CEO of Mukilteo, Wash.-based CombiMatrix, presented a broad overview of the firm’s business, touching on developments in its four major market segments: microarrays and diagnostics, arrays for homeland security purposes, nanotechnology, and drug development — a growing part of its business (see article p. 3).

CombiMatrix plans to release a few new CustomArray chips in the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2005, including arrays for central nervous system disorders, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic diseases, as well as other unspecified catalog arrays. Kumar said the firm anticipates modest sales increases over the next few quarters, after selling 49,000 chips in the last quarter.

The firm’s CustomArray 12K was launched in July 2004 and is beginning to generate sales, Kumar said. The company is awaiting scientific publications from “thought leaders” using the CustomArrays, which “typically opens the floodgates to revenues,” he said. He also noted that the company is looking to form new distribution pacts.

During a question-and-answer session with investors, Kumar was not nearly as upbeat when it came to discussing the firm’s alliance with Roche to develop and sell the MatrixArray platform — a project that has languished at Roche. “They have not killed the project,” he said.

But he did not hide his displeasure with the way the collaboration has worked out so far. Roche has made a number of decisions regarding the MatrixArray, he said, and “many of them have been bad decisions.”

CombiMatrix has delivered everything on its end of the collaboration to Roche, he asserted. “They have everything they need from a technical point of view.”

Regarding CombiMatrix’s collaboration with Intel, announced last month, Kumar acknowledged that it has to do with miniaturizing the chip design to bring the electrodes down to the nanometer scale. This, he said, is only possible using advanced lithography, “which only exists in the R&D labs of Intel and others.”

Kumar noted that Intel employees are currently working at CombiMatrix, and vice versa, but would not disclose details on possible applications of a denser chip. “As we achieve certain milestones, we will disclose more on the Intel collaboration,” he said.


Illumina President and CEO Jay Flatley talked about the San Diego-based firm’s growth opportunities in gene expression and genotyping, where the firm is considered a market leader. The company is working on whole-genome and focused gene chips and sells its BeadStation 500X platform to the gene expression market at a cost of $190,000.

Illumina sells its BeadStation 500GX for genotyping applications at a price of $250,000, and a combined instrument for genotyping and gene expression at $260,000.

In a question-and-answer breakout session following his present-ation, Flatley called the genotyping market “a two-horse race” between Illumina and Affymetrix, which recently entered the space with its GeneChip Mapping 100K Array Set. Illumina has plans to launch a 100K chip early next year.

The firm also is working with Genomas, applying its genotyping platform to the discovery of diagnostic markers for metabolic syndrome and obesity, and with Galileo Genomics, which is using the BeadStation 500GX in five disease-gene association studies.

Flatley also discussed a lawsuit that Affymetrix filed against Illumina a couple of months ago claiming infringement of six patents. He said he expects the litigation will take a couple of years to resolve and that he believes it was initiated to “slow down” Illumina’s efforts in the gene expression and genotyping spaces.


Agilent’s senior director of business development for its life sciences and chemical analysis business, Taia Ergueta, said the firm expects high growth in its integrated biology segment, which consists of genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics products.

The firm recently moved to expand its bioinformatics capabilities — and firmly cemented its position as a systems biology entity — with a recent agreement to buy Silicon Genetics. (see BAN 9/1/2004)

Ergueta said the firm sold 100,000 microarrays last year to 500 customers. It plans to develop new catalog and custom arrays and work on simplifying sample preparation and data analysis for its gene expression platforms. She also said the firm is evaluating new technologies in the gene expression space as well as cellular imaging technologies, an area in which the firm has no products.

— EW, JK

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