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Cellomics and Zeiss Sniff Out Customers At Potential NIH-Funded Screening Centers

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As university-affiliated laboratories across the US apply to receive NIH funding to become molecular library screening centers, Cellomics and Carl Zeiss want to make sure their product offerings are in the fold.

Two weeks ago, the companies put out a news release stating their intention to “bring small-molecule screening to basic science researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health as part of the Molecular Libraries Screening Centers Network.”

Cellomics provides a wide variety of high-content screening instrumentation, assay methods, and informatics. The company’s flagship HCS instrument, the ArrayScan VTI HCS reader, is enabled by Zeiss technology, and Zeiss is also the US distributor of Cellomics’ products to academic and biotechnology customers. Cellomics markets its own platforms to pharmaceutical customers in the US.

“We wanted to make clear that we have an industrial-scale tool that is very mature and has been in place for years at global pharmaceutical companies, that, through distribution by Carl Zeiss is being made available to academic screening centers … in their own small-molecule screening efforts,” said Martin Pietila, a Cellomics high-content screening product specialist at Zeiss.

Although the NIH has not specifically recommended Cellomics’ HCS tools to screening center applicants, Pietila said there may be some future discussion of this, depending on the number of applications that the agency receives that have Cellomics platforms as a key component.

“[The MLSCN objectives] differ markedly from screening operations you see in pharmaceutical companies that seek to develop profitable products,” Pietila said. “Their goal is to have compounds that they can get through the process as fast as possible and develop a drug as soon as possible.

“This is different than screening at academic institutions,” Pietila added, “where [researchers] will be doing lower volume small-molecule screening, and their goal is to focus on a tier of compounds with interesting biological activities. They are going to apply much more detailed analyses of a greater number of compounds,” and that’s where high-content screening comes in to play, he said.

Pietila also stressed the importance of the Cellomics informatics tools and image management database as a way for researchers to comply with the NIH mandate for the screening centers to share data with the scientific community.

With a relatively small amount of funding for instrumentation — about $500,000 — expected to be awarded to each screening center, Pietila said that Cellomics’ price point for most of its instrumentation may fit researchers’ budgets. As of April, a VTI HCS reader cost about $195,000 for a bare-bones version, and up to $450,000 for the most advanced version. Cellomics also offers more basic assay instrumentation and recently started a program to sell certified, used instruments to academics at a substantial discount.

—BB

 

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