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Washington State s Lumera Prepares Release Of Biochip for MALDI and Array Applications

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Created in 2001 in a collaboration between the University of Washington and display technology manufacturer Microvision, Lumera, of Bothell, Wash., originally focused on the development and manufacture of switching devices for high-speed data communication applications.

In March, news reports said the company, which had started off with $24 million in financing led by Cisco Systems, was tottering on the brink of financial oblivion.

But last month, the company announced a $2.3 million financing round of convertible notes and is now within 30 to 45 days of launching a commercial biochip product, company executives told BioArray News this week. The biochip will have applications for proteomics, and later, for fluorescence-detection applications, they said. The product line came out of developmental efforts within the company based on organic polymers.

“As the telecom markets went south, we were looking for opportunities to leverage our know-how in high-growth markets,” said Bob Petcavich, the company’s chief technology officer who joined the firm three months ago from Planet Polymer Technologies of San Diego.

Leveraging Client Work

The opportunities that Lumera originally conceived were for coatings. Now, the company has taken this material and created a biochip, which will be marketed as the NanoCapture Array.

“What we do is we pattern our hydrophobic coating and we do a surface treatment on the silicon wafer so that we get a hydrophilic/ hydrophobic contrast where the spot is,” said Tim Londergan, the company’s technical marketing manager. “So, when an analyte gets put down on the hydrophilic spot, it concentrates onto the spot so that we can put substantially more chemistry on that spot than if it was not a pattern spot.”

The advantage that brings is in improving the signal from the chips.

“The signal-to-noise ratio goes way up because you don’t have any leakage or diffusion of materials from spot to spot,” Petcavich said.

The product came about in a collaboration with a undisclosed microarray company working on chips for MALDI mass spectrometry applications. The customer wanted help in creating arrays that insured no cross-contamination between spots, and spot integrity, said Petcavich. The company is now testing Lumera’s product, which uses its chemistry process to create arrays of spots onto which proteins are placed, and then dried for MALDI.

“That was the leaping off point into microarrays,” said Londergan. “We have taken it from a coating play to manufacturing the chips.”

The company has a semiconductor manufacturing facility that it will use to manufacture the chips. The first products commercialized will be aimed at the MALDI mass spec market, with fluorescence applications to follow.

Competitive Chips

“People haven’t figured out a way to do this reproducibly on a chip and do it at a price point that is going to be competitive. We have figured that out,” said Londergan.

The company is considering selling these products at a discount to alternatives already on the market.

“If we are 15 percent less than the products that are out there, you can grab some significant market share,” said Petcavich. Lumera will target the homebrew market with its biochips.

“There is a pretty significant home-brew market out there, and there are different ways to enter that market that are going to be different than supplying OEMs and people making the arrays,” Londergan said. “We are still trying to figure out which of those will be the most lucrative.”

The manufacturing process, Londergan said, will accommodate a range of densities on the chips, from a medium-density chip for the MALDI application, to a high-density pattern for fluorescence-based microarrays.

“We have enough industry contacts to maybe leverage and scale this to not only chips but to diagnostic devices and possibly even instrumentation,” said Petcavich.

—MOK

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