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BD Unveils First New High-Content Analysis Tools Since 04 Atto Bioscience Acquisition


BD Biosciences this week launched a number of new products for high-content analysis, including two distinct lower-end versions of its Pathway HT automated imaging system, and a set of antibody reagents that have been validated specifically for use with high-content imaging systems.

This is the first new product launch from BD Biosciences' high-content cellular-imaging business since it acquired Atto Bioscience, which originally developed the Pathway, nearly two years ago.

The launches also follow a recent trend among HCS vendors such as Cellomics and Molecular Devices to offer a range of low-end and high-end platforms to address distinct emerging markets.

"From a market perspective, this demonstrates BD's commitment to the HCS market," Phil Vanek, director of marketing for bioimaging systems at BD Biosciences, told CBA News this week.

The products were unveiled simultaneously at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Washington, DC, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology meeting in San Francisco, BD Biosciences said.

The new instruments are the BD Pathway 435 and 415, lower-end versions of the Pathway HT, which BD Biosciences has also recently renamed the Pathway 855. BD Biosciences put the new numerical labeling systems in place to better designate the different tiers of current and future instruments.

"From a market perspective, this demonstrates BD's commitment to the HCS market."

"The goal is to indicate that any of our high-end, kinetic live-cell imagers will be in the 800 series, while the 400 series will be more of an endpoint instrument — not really entry-level, but a comparable instrument to what you would find from the other endpoint instruments on the market," said Vanek.

Specifically, the Pathway 435 is a confocal bench-top imager that essentially employs the same optics as the Pathway 855. The major difference is that the 435 is a compact standalone imager meant for the bench top, while the 855 is decked out fully for large-scale screening campaigns, complete with liquid handling, environmental control, and advanced image-analysis software.

BD describes the Pathway 415 as a cost-effective alternative to the Pathway 435. It does not feature confocal imaging capabilities, but can be upgraded to confocal, Vanek said.

Both systems also provide a streamlined software interface, Vanek said, called application wizards, "so people can get in and onto the instrument and start working right away."

BD did not disclose how much the instruments would cost.

Emerging Markets

BD launched the new instruments primarily in response to market demand, according to Vanek.

"We still see that 75 or 80 percent of the market is interested in looking at endpoint applications," Vanek said. "I think the reason for that is the data is not as intense, the equipment is not as expensive, and the requisite understanding of the biology — it's not information overload. So there is a lot of value to having more simplified, more streamlined access into automated imaging."

This follows a recent trend in which HCS vendors have found a need to market both a higher-end system, usually for kinetic live-cell imaging, and usually incorporating confocal or confocal-like optics; and a lower-end system typically used for fixed cell endpoint assays. These often, but not always, use CCD camera-based imaging.

Molecular Devices most recently launched a line of low- to high-end imaging products, while Fisher's Cellomics unit also expanded its options with agreements with Applied Precision and Evotec Technologies.

"We still see that 75 or 80 percent of the market is interested in looking at endpoint applications."

This range of instruments is meant to satisfy distinct market segments that have recently developed, although it is still difficult to label those segments. It seems natural to identify them as pharmaceutical and biotech on one side, and academic and government labs on the other. However, if there is a line here, it continues to be blurred, as one need only look at examples such as the NIH's recent establishment of the Molecular Libraries Screening Centers Network, and Evotec's multimillion-dollar partnership with the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children's Hospital, announced just this week [see accompanying story, this issue].

Last June, Dietrich Ruehlmann, product manager for imaging and analysis at BD Biosciences, told CBA News during a roundtable discussion that BD "[doesn't] differentiate any more based on where the customer is; we differentiate based on what the customer is trying to do." (See CBA News, 6/27/2005).

Vanek this week reiterated his colleague's statement, and said that BD Biosciences wouldn't necessarily market the Pathway 855 primarily to pharma and biotech customers.

"I don't think we really differentiate as much by where they are," Vanek said. "The [Pathway 855] is geared towards people who are doing a bit more sophisticated bioimaging — those needing kinetic capability, confocal, and environmental control all wrapped up in one instrument."

He added that the 855 still offers a certain level of flexibility in that "you're not nailed down or pushed into pre-set algorithms or assays, and you have a lot of flexibility to sort of go off the beaten path and explore new biology," something that certainly applies in academic research.

BD Biosciences also introduced a set of a "few hundred" antibody reagents that have been validated for use with the Pathway imaging systems.

"BD has a long history in supporting cell analysis research … and [has] always had a large collection of mostly monoclonal, as well as some polyclonal antibodies that were available for Western blotting, or in some cases immunohistochemistry; but mostly for flow cytometry," Vanek said. "The challenge was that those reagents had never been adequately verified for fluorescence imaging applications, and the market was demanding verified reagents."

To this end, BD Biosciences took a portfolio of several hundred of its antibody reagents and ran screening experiments with them using a Pathway 855 "to actually make sure that under two fixation and permeabilization methods, and in three different cell lines, we get adequate labeling," Vanek said.

"Based on those criteria, if an antibody makes it through our applications challenge, then we will put it into the special category of imaging certified," he added, which is what the new products are. Vanek said that BD also continues to develop new antibodies that may have application in imaging.

— Ben Butkus ([email protected])

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