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Cell-Based Screening and Analysis a Featured Attraction at Drug Discovery Technology 2004

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Cell-Based

screening and analysis constituted a major portion of IBC Life Sciences’ Drug Discovery Technology 2004 conference, which attracted some 6,000 registered attendees from more than 2,000 companies to Boston last week.

The conference also focused on areas such as cancer therapeutics, predictive ADME and toxicology, angiogenesis, informatics, lead-to-hit, and RNAi. But in the exhibition hall, poster sessions, and technology showcases, cell-based assays proved a popular topic.

“This area is really growing,” said Stephen Ruetz, a lab head at the Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research, and chair of the sessions. “It’s not really a new thing — we’ve been doing it for twenty years. Nevertheless, it is experiencing a renaissance.”

Ruetz cited three major reasons for this renaissance: “First, a lot of researchers in industry started to realize that there are a lot more targets when you are working with cells,” he said. “It’s nearly impossible to purify all the desired targets.

“Second, there has been a boom in technology,” Ruetz added. “And third, this boom has allowed us to make new assays to solve problems we couldn’t before because we can now measure things we couldn’t before.”

Ruetz’ words were reflected in the keynote speech of his colleague Mark Fishman, president of the Novartis Institutes. In his speech, entitled “Phenotypes for Pharmaceuticals,” Fishman stressed the importance of studying entire disease pathways to “functionalize” the genome and link information gleaned from the Human Genome Project to disease phenotypes. Fishman is well-known for his work using zebrafish as model organisms in drug screening.

Still, cells are the first step in understanding biochemical disease pathways beyond the genetic level, and judging by the number of new cell-based products being championed in the exhibition hall and at the poster sessions, industry vendors are well aware of the need for technologies at this level. (See Products, in this issue, for a summary of notable cell-based screening and analysis product launches at the show).

Swedish biotech Cellectricon successfully used DDT as a forum to show off its forthcoming DynaFlow system, as Mattias Karlsson, the company’s vice president of research, was awarded the best poster prize for explaining how researchers could multiplex cell-based drug screens on DynaFlow. (For more on DynaFlow, see Inside Bioassays, 6/1/2004).

The poster described a 16-channel version of the microfluidics-based system. According to Jakob Lindberg, Cellectricon’s CEO, DynaFlow has “already been beta-tested by three large pharmas,” and the official commercial launch of a 48-channel version of the platform will take place at October’s Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego.

Other notable cell-based screening and analysis news highlights from the conference floor included new collaborations announced by Cisbio International, Cellomics’ debut of its partnership with IBM for high-content screening informatics, and Compucyte’s collaboration with the National University of Singapore.

Cisbio Nabs Instrument, Reagent Collaborators for HTRF Assay Technology

Cisbio International announced at the conference collaborations with three assay instrumentation makers and two reagent supply companies to support the company’s first solo foray into the US for its homogenous time-resolved fluorescence, or HTRF assays.

Cisbio a wholly-owned subsidiary of Schering based in Bagnols, France, will pair with BMG Labtech, Tecan, and Molecular Devices on the instrumentation side; and Cell Signaling Technology and Upstate on the reagent front.

The HTRF assay is based on fluorescence resonance energy transfer, in which one fluorescence molecule is excited by a light source, then transfers its energy to another fluorescence molecule that is extremely close to it. When the fluorophores are attached to cellular proteins, researchers can determine if those proteins are interacting by assessing the fluorescence ratio of the fluorophores. The assays can in some cases be performed in live, intact cells, said Mark Schmeizl, US national sales director for Cisbio, but are typically performed on whole-cell lysate.

Cisbio holds patents on methods and fluorophores for the assays, but according to Francois Degorce, marketing manager for the HTRF technology, the company needed to work with instrument makers to validate the assay on their platforms. These collaborations will enable Cisbio to offer its assays to users of BMG Labtech, Tecan, and Molecular Devices fluorescence readers.

In addition, Cisbio said that its assay has great potential in kinase screening, and that the deal with CST will exploit that company’s portfolio of antibodies against molecules involved in kinase pathways and the partnership with Upstate will take advantage of that company’s existing assay for a particular kinase.

Cisbio, which had been using Packard Bioscience (now part of PerkinElmer) to market the assays in the US, now plans to sell the assays itself through a new facility in Bedford, Mass., which is expected to be up and running in late September, Schmeizl said.

Cellomics Teams with IBM on HCS Informatics

IBM and Cellomics have co-developed an information technology solution designed to store and manage data from Cellomics’ high-content screening cell-based assay platform, the companies announced.

Judy Masucci, Cellomics’ director of marketing, told Inside Bioassays that Cellomics and IBM have installed the first of these information technology systems, the HCi Appliance, at EPOPlus, a German biotech firm developing an erythropoietin therapy.

The infrastructure will include Cellomics’ High Content Informatics software with servers, storage, and management software from IBM. The Cellomics package includes its Cellomics Store database, HCS Application Server, and vHCS Discovery Toolbox, the latter being a suite of tools to manage, analyze, and visualize data from any licensed HCS reader, including Cellomics’ KineticScan and ArrayScan VTI readers.

Cellomics has another informatics partnership with EMC, which the companies began in December. Mark Collins, senior product manager for Cellomics, told BioInform, Inside Bioassays’ sister publication, that the relationship with IBM will not impact this storage partnership. The EMC solution, built on the company’s Centera system, is for “static storage,” Collins said, while the IBM system is designed for data that researchers will want on hand.

CompuCyte to Conduct High-Content Screening for University of Singapore

CompuCyte announced that it has agreed to study the cell-death-inducing activity of small molecules for the National University of Singapore using iCyte and iCys, Compucyte’s high-content cell-based imaging cytometers.

The experiments will be conducted at CompuCyte’s Cambridge, Mass. Headquarters, the company said. The molecules will be evaluated for use in treating cancers and other unspecified diseases.

“The beauty of CompuCyte’s system lies in its ability to combine the strengths of flow cytometry and fluorescent imaging, without having to switch samples or equipment,” Shazib Pervaiz, vice dean for research and graduate studies at NUS’ School of Medicine, said in an official statement. “This allows a very reliable assessment of distinct events like DNA damage or caspase activation, within heterogeneous cell populations.”

PerkinElmer a No-Show

Instrumentation giant PerkinElmer was noticeably absent from the Drug Discovery Conference. The company had reserved exhibition space and planned on launching a new product at the show, according to IBC’s pre-show guide published several weeks ago.

But Inside Bioassays learned on Aug. 9, the day exhibits were set to open, that the company had cancelled its appearance. According to an IBC media delegate, the cancellation was assumed to have occurred within the last two weeks. Sherry Johnson, an IBC employee responsible for company sponsorship opportunities, declined to provide any more details on PerkinElmer’s cancellation.

Sources close to the company on the exhibition floor speculated that a financial analysis of the show led PerkinElmer to believe that it would not be cost-beneficial to the company.

On Tuesday, Kevin Lorenc, marketing director for PerkinElmer, told Inside Bioassays’ sister publication GenomeWeb News that “PerkinElmer evaluates each event in which it participates based on a specific set of strategic marketing objectives and its expected return on those objectives. For 2004, it was concluded that [DDT], while meeting our objectives in past years, was not in line with our current priorities, and we have elected to forego our participation this year.

“This decision was not related to the timing of any new product introductions, nor does it indicate any unfavorable view of the event or its management,” he said. “We will continue to consider DDT as a potential showcase for our products in future years, and do plan to attend as our strategies and marketing objectives warrant it.”

—BB

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