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Beckman Coulter Shows Off New Cell Imager And Benchtop Cellular Analysis Tool at ASCB

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WASHINGTON, DC — Beckman Coulter’s entry in the high-content screening marketplace, the IC 100 image cytometer, is now on the market, and the company was showing off the final version for the first time at the American Society for Cell Biology annual meeting held here last week.

Inside Bioassays reported in June that although the IC 100 was not officially on the market, advanced customers had been using the cytometer since February. Since that time, those customers have been providing Beckman with feedback, and Beckman made necessary changes and launched the instrument with relatively little fanfare.

Those who have been following the IC 100’s development since Beckman absorbed it with its acquisition of original developer Q3DM last December may be interested to know that Beckman managed a price point on par with competitive instruments and well below earlier estimates. In June, Casey Laris, a Beckman product manager, said that the IC 100 would cost “less than $500,000,” and that Beckman wanted to be “very aggressive” with the pricing as compared with other recent high-content screening platforms (see Inside Bioassays, 6/22/2004)

Mark Cheetham, Beckman’s North American product manager for cytometry products, told Inside Bioassays at the ASCB meeting that the list price for the basic instrument is about $260,000 — a price that Beckman hopes will spur sales not only at pharmaceutical and biotech customers, but also at academic laboratories, from which the largest amount of interest is being seen, Cheetham said.

Although Cheetham did not divulge specific sales figures for the instrument thus far, he said that Beckman “has more orders for the instrument than [it] has in stock.”

The IC 100 is part of Beckman’s CellLab line of products designed to enable cellular analysis on multiple levels, and is the first and only CellLab product that uses true image-based analysis. Based on a feedback-loop auto-focus technology developed at Q3DM, the instrument has endured very few changes to the core technology, Cheetham said.

According to Cheetham, approximately 75 percent of the Q3DM employees remain with Beckman Coulter, and have contributed to the IC 100’s evolution. Most remain in Beckman Coulter’s R&D division at Q3DM’s original site in San Diego.

The system is based on a Nikon inverted fluorescence microscope system, and also comprises a high-powered lamp light source, eight-color filter wheel for multi-colored imaging, and a choice of one or two high-sensitivity CCD cameras. Cheetham said that one camera is designed for the most basic imaging applications, while the other, more expensive option is designed for higher-end experiments, such as low-light imaging.

Cheetham also said that there has been some discussion with Nikon about co-marketing the platform — a situation that would be similar to the relationship between Cellomics and Carl Zeiss, which distributes Cellomics’ HCS products based on a key Zeiss imaging technology. Nothing has yet materialized between Beckman and Nikon on this front, however.

The IC 100 also comes equipped with CytoShop image analysis software, also designed by Q3DM.

Although the largest amount of interest thus far is from the academic side, Beckman hopes — as do many companies marketing HCS instruments — that pharmaceutical and biotech companies will pick up the spending on the drug-discovery tools side of things, and will continue with the recent trend of image-based analysis for secondary screening and ADME/tox.

“The biggest applications so far are fluorescent protein translocation and studies based on GFP expression in live, adherent cells,” Cheetham said. “People want to take flow-cytometric-type analysis and do it with adherent cells.” He also said that one of the biggest advantages that users are reporting so far is the ability to correlate protein expression with cell cycle.

Beckman is already in the process of designing automation features for the product that would make it more conducive to a high-throughput screening laboratory, which it plans to unveil sometime next year.

Although the IC 100 is the big-name product in the CellLab lineup, Beckman was also displaying its benchtop flow-based cell analyzer, the NPE Quanta.

Acquired in an August licensing and development agreement with NPE Systems of Pembroke Pines, Fla., the Quanta represents Beckman’s answer to Guava’s line of benchtop flow-based cell analyzers. Used for cell counting, sizing, sorting, and single-parameter assays, the product currently spans biotech, pharma, academia, and government research labs, Cheetham said. Its major advantage over the Guava Personal Cell Analysis products, he added, is that it enables “more accurate measurements” because it is based on the sheath flow that is found in traditional flow cytometery products, such as the ones Beckman has been marketing for decades.

Although Beckman doesn’t yet have information about the Quanta on its website, Cheetham said that the system is now commercially available.

— BB

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