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Beckman Coulter Officially Launches Imaging Cytometer for High-Throughput Cellular Assays

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Beckman Coulter last week launched its first major product into the image-based cellular analysis market, the Cell Lab IC 100 Image Cytometer.

As reported by Inside Bioassays, the IC 100 has been on the market since at least December, when Beckman Coulter was showing off the final version of the instrument — having incorporated early-user feedback — at the American Society for Cell Biology Meeting in Washington, DC (see Inside Bioassays, 12/14/2004).

The formal announcement of the product’s availability coincidentally came one day prior to a press release announcing the official launch of cell image-based software and reagent firm Vala Science, the founders of which, Jeffrey Price and Edward Hunter, also founded Q3DM, a biotech start-up that Beckman Coulter acquired in late 2003.

The original template for the IC 100 was Q3DM’s EIDAQ high-throughput microscopy system, which, at the time of the Q3DM acquisition, essentially comprised a confocal microscope and an assortment of CCD cameras that enabled an auto-focus feedback loop for fast, automated cellular imaging. Since then, Beckman has transformed the instrument into an imaging “box” about the size of a copy machine.

“It is very nice to see the technology that we developed get disseminated by a company with that kind of global distribution channel,” said Price, who besides being the president and CEO of Vala Sciences, also retains a consultancy relationship with Beckman Coulter.

The software for the IC 100, called CytoShop, was also developed by Q3DM scientists, chiefly Hunter. Although it has been tweaked to a small degree so far, Casey Laris, who is a product manager for the IC 100 and former Q3DM employee, told Inside Bioassays last week that the biggest changes are yet to come.

“We’re spending a lot of effort on software,” Laris said. “It’s going to be stable from the perspective of user data — we’re keeping everything backward-compatible, so there will be no transition cost as we upgrade the pieces.

“Also, we have an automation component coming within the next 30 days that will allow it to integrate with other Beckman automation components,” Laris added.

Finally, Laris said that Beckman will be expanding CytoShop’s “open plug-in architecture,” which will allow researchers to have a choice of developing their own image-analysis algorithms, or relying on those designed by Beckman Coulter.

“We want to understand things on a cell-by-cell basis, and there are some strange-shaped cells out there,” Laris said. “We’re actively writing new algorithms to measure those, but sometimes pharmaceutical companies don’t want it known in general how they do things, and sometimes academics want to play in their sandbox and not wait for companies to build it for them.”

Another new feature related to the IC 100 that Beckman Coulter has launched since December is a bead reagent for imaging assays that the company has licensed from an undisclosed vendor.

“That’s part of the reason we waited for launch — because we wanted to get reagents for that up and running,” Laris said. “We’ve pushed it through some pretty heavy validation on our systems to make it work a little bit better for imaging.”

Laris declined to provide a current list price for the IC 100, but in December, Mark Cheetham, Beckman’s North American product manager for cytometry products, said that the list price for the basic instrument is about $260,000. The IC 100 is currently available only in North America, Beckman Coulter said.

— BB