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Was 2002 the Year of the Microarray? Maybe. But Challenges Remain for Industry, Science.

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The Genome News Network, an agency of the non-profit Center for the Advancement of Genomics of Rockville, Md., has declared 2002 as the year of the gene chip.

Maybe. Or, perhaps even better, 2002 was the year that microarray technology turned onto the runway and began to rev its engines for takeoff into 2003 and a market approaching $1 billion in revenues, unraveling intellectual property disputes, and installing data standards.

This year, expect to see these trends:

  • Increasing catalogue microarray products. Agilent told BioArray News that it will concentrate on catalogue products in 2003. Others will likely find it makes business sense to put a set content on a chip and sell it in quantity. Clearly, Affy has done that with its human gene chip set, introduced early last year.
  • Increased implementation of data standards. In September, The Lancet and Nature endorsed guidelines issued by the Microarray Gene Expression Data society, with Nature requiring authors to submit their microarray data to a public database. Some wags refer to the Minimal Information about a Microarray Experiment guideline(MIAME) as the Maximum information standard.
  • Amersham’s CodeLink entry — After buying Motorola’s CodeLink microarray business for $20 million in July, Amersham is gearing up for business, hiring a sales staff and building its own fabrication facility, which it expects to be up and running some time in the first quarter.
  • New software products that go beyond data clustering. Scientists are increasingly seeing the need to validate results statistically and are finding current tools wanting. It’s a market that has already attracted statistical software giants SAS and SPSS.
  • More IP lawsuits. Just as Stanford and Affymetrix settled an IP lawsuit, Oxford Gene Technology has filed two new ones.
  • Asia becomes a growth market. With the new year, Affymetrix opened an office in Tokyo, ending a sales and distribution agreement with Amersham. China, with its cheap labor resources, and Taiwan, with its semiconductor manufacturing skills, loom on the horizon.
  • More diagnostics deals. At the end of the year, gene-expression profiling emerged as a “more powerful predictor” of the outcome of breast cancer. This is an important indicator of the power of this tool in clinical research.

Researchers are waiting for next-generation chips to arrive, with higher sensitivity and greater throughput.

There are needs for improved automation and a demand for lower costs per assay.

Reagents need to be optimized and sample preparation and experiment design are all crying out for commercial solutions.

Clearly, it’s very early in the development of this technology. Perhaps these needs will be answered this year. If so, then 2003 will be the year of the microarray.

— MOK

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