Just one week after licensing its core high-content screening patent portfolio to GE Healthcare, Cellomics has struck another deal with the newly formed unit of GE.
This time, in a deal announced on June 29, Cellomics has agreed to collaborate with GE Healthcare to design and market an interface that allows images and data generated by GE Healthcare’s IN Cell Analyzer instruments to be mined, interpreted, and stored using Cellomics’ high-content informatics software platform. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The move is the latest in a series of agreements and initiatives the Pittsburgh-based company has made over the last year to support its strategy of diffusing high-content screening — a market space it is widely regarded as having created — throughout the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and academic research communities.
It also marks the second major deal with GE Healthcare in the past two weeks. On June 22, Cellomics non-exclusively licensed its core HCS patent portfolio to GE Healthcare and granted GE rights to sublicense the technologies to pharmaceutical customers (see Inside Bioassays, 6/29/2004).
GE Healthcare has also quickly carved out a niche for itself in the high-content screening and cellular analysis marketplace. On June 9, GE Healthcare announced that Bristol-Myers Squibb and Regeneron had signed licensing agreements for the rights to use GFP in cell-based research programs (see Inside Bioassays, 6/15/2004).
GE took over the rights to sub-license specific GFP applications as a result of its April acquisition of Amersham Biosciences, which had previously secured the rights to the GFP intellectual property. The acquisition also added Amersham’s IN Cell Analyzers to the GE product portfolio.
And in the future, when customers use GE’s IN Cell Analyzer 3000 and 1000 instruments, they will also have the option of using Cellomics’ high-content informatics platform along with it.
Specifically, users will be able to apply Cellomics’ vHCS Discovery ToolBox, PC-based tools for creating, managing, analyzing, and communicating high-content images and data, as well as its Cellomics Store database for managing large volumes of HCS images and data.
Of course, since many IN Cell Analyzer customers will be conducting assays that are part of Cellomics’ IP portfolio on the instrument, it stands to reason that GE would want to offer Cellomics’ informatics tools along with it.
According to John Sutton, vice president of product management within GE Healthcare’s biosciences division, the company sees four levels of HCS informatics and software: its basic operating system; application-specific algorithms; data mining and visualization; and integrating data with that of other research tools, such as gene expression arrays. Amersham and GE Healthcare already had the first two in place, Sutton said. Despite this, with the IN Cell, it “was very much up to the customer to design the informatics platform for it,” he said, although Amersham had worked with SciMagix and some other small informatics companies.
The partnership with Cellomics is intended to address the third tier —.data mining and visualization. “[For] that third level, at the moment, Cellomics has the only packaged solution for customers,” Sutton told Inside Bioassays. “Keeping with our theme of giving customers choices, in the past, if customers wanted to buy a customized informatics solution … then they had to buy a Cellomics instrument. There was no way to link other instruments to their platform.”
The Cellomics informatics software is currently offered by the company as part of its ArrayScan or KineticScan imaging instrument platforms. These instruments are viewed as competitors to the IN Cell Analyzers, most closely to the IN Cell 1000, which, like the ArrayScan, uses non-laser-based, confocal-like optics.
So now that Cellomics is licensing out assays and developing software to be used with one of its biggest competitors’ instruments, one might wonder if the company is retooling its business strategy by switching gears and becoming more of an informatics and assay development company, as opposed to an instrumentation provider.
Not so, said William Sharp, Cellomics’ recently appointed vice president of business development. “We will be staying the course,” he said.
Judy Masucci, Cellomics’ director of marketing, emphasized that the company’s strategy has always been centered on its assay technology and related analysis tools. “We’ve never really just been an instruments company. We’ve always been a solutions provider,” she said. “We’ve always had the image analysis algorithms, and we’ve always had the informatics, because we realized from very early on that this type of a tool was really going to generate a lot of data, and people were going to have trouble managing that.”
“We really feel [that] the value of HCS is being able to get the decision, or the answer out of it,” Masucci added. “We like our picture-taker, we think it’s great, but a lot of companies can make a decent picture-taker. But not every company can provide all of the image analysis tools and informatics tools that we’ve provided.”
Hypothetically, Sharp said, the Cellomics image analysis and informatics platform could be integrated into any instrument platform that captures images. And, he said, the company definitely seeks to collaborate with other companies in the future, including, but not limited to, companies that market such instruments for HCS.
“As the market leader in this space, there is value [to our] customers in those solutions that Cellomics offers,” Sharp said. “So from that regard, as other companies have instrumentation platforms, they and their customers may see value in a similar type of relationship. Any platform that captures an image — a cellular image, for example — would find our technology potentially useful.”
Sharp added that the company will also continue to seek partners to which it can license its intellectual property related to HCS.