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Cellomics Pushes Into Asia by Forging HCS Deal With Chinese Drug Screening Center

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In its continuing effort to disseminate high-content screening throughout the worldwide research community, Cellomics has struck a deal with the National Center for Drug Screening in Shanghai, China, that sees the institution using a full suite of Cellomics’ HCS products for drug discovery and development.

Under the terms of the agreement, announced on Thursday, Cellomics has installed an ArrayScan 4.0 and associated software and reagents at the center, said Judy Masucci, Cellomics’ director of marketing. The company also currently has a service technician on site to provide user training and support.

It’s welcome news for Cellomics, which makes its first push into China and its second into the Asia-Pacific region (the company already has customers in Japan). And it’s very big news for the NCDS and China in general.

“I think the thought was that [China] had been behind the West and Japan in terms of biotech,” speculated Daniel Calvo, Cellomics’ president and CEO, who spoke with Inside Bioassays from Shanghai. “So this is a really big step for them, and is making them much more competitive, particularly in the area of drug discovery.”

“The news is not that we worked with Cellomics,” Ming-Wei Wang, director of the NCDS said. “It is that we are adopting high-content screening, which is a very advanced and cutting-edge technology. It is important to show that we are not always lagging and falling behind. We want to be a player, and we want our biotechnology industry to reflect China.”

The NCDS is affiliated with Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. According to Wang, it is an independent entity, but “with drug discovery and development, we work side by side with the Shanghai Institute,” he said. Wang is also a professor at the institute.

“It is the only national drug screening center,” Wang said. “There are other institutes or laboratories that are involved in drug screening, but they are regional.” He added that NCDS covers the broad spectrum of drug development, including library construction, assay development, and lead discovery.

Cellomics doesn’t plan to stop with NCDS. Calvo told Inside Bioassays that “we’re looking at several opportunities in Asia,” but that the NCDS deal “is the first one that we can go public with.”

Furthermore, Masucci said that Cellomics expects NCDS to eventually purchase additional and more advanced Cellomics platforms; the ArrayScan 4.0 is the company’s older model, having recently been upgraded to the ArrayScan VTI reader. The 4.0 version, however, does include Cellomics’ full supporting suite of informatics hardware and software, called the HCi appliance.

Included in the HCi appliance is Cellomics’ vHCS Discovery Toolbox and the Cellomics Store software, as well as data storage products from IBM. The NCDS agreement is the first to be officially announced by Cellomics since it publicized its alliance with IBM last month at the Drug Discovery Technology 2004 conference in Boston. (see Inside Bioassays, 8/17/2004)

The deal also includes Cellomics’ reagent kits, which comprise some 20 sets of fluorescent proteins, buffers, and, in some cases, control compounds, all of which have been validated on and optimized for the ArrayScan plate reader.

Wang said NCDS considered platforms based on four major criteria: market presence, total support, local support, and the financial aspects of the final deal. After careful consideration, he said, the center chose Cellomics’ platform because it best met these criteria.

“In terms of a total solution, they are the leader,” he told Inside Bioassays. “They work very closely with Zeiss and IBM, and these are two companies in China that have a very good image and can provide local support.”

The institute also considered platforms from other HCS providers, in particular the IN Cell Analyzer from GE Healthcare, based on a prior relationship the center had with Amersham Biosciences, Wang said.

“But GE just acquired Amersham and is still trying to organize its strategy,” Wang said. “They are still trying to sort things out. We have a good relationship with Amersham, and we will continue to work with them, but in this area, GE still cannot compete.”

According to Wang, the center will primarily be using HCS to screen against GPCR targets, with a particular focus on three therapeutic areas: oncology, CNS, and metabolic disorders.

And Cellomics is hoping its strategy to sell more HCS platforms by making it more widely available will take hold. Masucci said that Cellomics sees the NCDS as a lynchpin of sorts to make HCS ubiquitous in Chinese laboratories, and Ming-Wei corroborated that statement.

“That’s a very fair comment, because we are a leading institution in this area, and we train people and provide support throughout the country,” Wang said. He added that a major academic institution in Beijing has already contact him to ask about how NCDS can help it set up a similar program.

—BB

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