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Cyntellect Hopes Sigma Biomanufacturing Deal Will Help Spur New Cell-Assay Apps

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San Diego-based Cyntellect has given laboratory product giant Sigma-Aldrich an exclusive, worldwide license to commercialize its CellXpress service for purifying super-secreting cell lines in biomanufacturing, the firm said last week.

The deal, which includes a multi-million-dollar equity investment in the company by Sigma, makes Cyntellect's technology available to Sigma's stable of biopharmaceutical customers.

Cyntellect also hopes the agreement will serve to validate its CellXpress platform for high-throughput cell purification applications in other arenas, including cell-based assays for drug discovery.

"[This] deal … demonstrates the value of cell purification in this space, and Cyntellect is now also making the same type of services available for companies who want to purify cell lines that are GFP-expressing, ion channel-expressing, and so forth," Jim Linton, Cyntellect's chief business officer, told CBA News last week.

Beside the equity investment, Sigma will pay Cyntellect royalties and certain other payments to access LEAP (Laser-Enabled Analysis and Processing) — the technology on which CellXpress is based — for internal use.

Sigma will use the CellXpress service to more quickly and efficiently provide its customers in the biopharmaceutical industry with cell lines optimized to secrete proteins at a high rate, it said.

The companies declined to provide further financial details of the agreement.

Cyntellect had already struck deals with customers for CellXpress — one earlier this year with an undisclosed US-based biotechnology company; the other in November with Plymouth, Minn.-based monoclonal drug developer Protein Design Labs (see CBA News, 2/1/2005 and 11/2/2004).

However, those deals constitute service agreements directly between Cyntellect and those companies. The new deal, by comparison, enables Sigma to make Cyntellect's technology available to its own stable of biopharmaceutical customers, and takes the onus of providing an extensive bioproduction business off of nascent Cyntellect.

It is unclear exactly how many existing biomanufacturing customers Sigma-Aldrich has, but it's safe to say that the company's sales and marketing reach in this area dwarves what Cyntellect may have been able to accomplish on its own.

Calls to Sigma-Aldrich were not returned in time for this publication.

"What you're seeing here is a strategic focusing" of Cyntellect, Linton added. "We recognized that it's very difficult to be both a biopharmaceutical servicing company and a company that will provide products and services to the life sciences market. Instead of trying to do both and failing — as many companies have — [we decided] to partner with someone who can leverage the value of the biopharmaceutical component in a way that will be profitable for us, and to focus Cyntellect on the life science market, and potentially the therapeutic market downstream."

Linton added that the Sigma deal will not, at least for the foreseeable future, change its relationships with existing CellXpress customers.

"We're providing a service for Protein Design Labs," Linton said. "And now, Sigma will be providing those services for future customers. We are continuing to serve our existing customers, but we will work with Sigma to help them rapidly get online and service all the customers that they want to handle."

The CellXpress service will be integrated into the Sigma Aldrich's Fine Chemicals/JRH unit, which recently shored up its offerings for biopharmaceutical production with a $370 million acquisition of JRH Biosciences. JRH had approximately $150 million in sales in 2004, and Sigma has said it expects this figure to grow 10 percent this year.

"SAFC/JRH's goal is to offer biopharmaceutical companies integrated services that will include everything from novel vector production to media optimization," Carl Schrott, SAFC/JRH's strategic marketing manager said in a statement. "CellXpress will provide these customers access to state-of-the-art technology that will yield a clear competitive advantage by enabling cloning of cell lines that secrete significantly greater amounts of protein than cell lines identified by currently available technology, and with a shorter amount of time."

Two Out of Three

With the consummation of the Sigma-Aldrich deal — and to a lesser extent the previously announced biomanufacturing-related partnerships — Cyntellect has now hit two of the three areas at which it is targeting the LEAP technology.

Earlier this month, Cyntellect struck a deal with Daiichi in which Cyntellect will design, configure, and run cell-based assays on LEAP against a compound collection provided by the Japanese drug maker (see CBA News, 4/5/2005).

At that time, Linton told CBA News that the Daiichi agreement represented one of the areas in which the company felt LEAP could see uptake: high-throughput cell-based drug discovery.

That application would actually combine two other possible areas: large-scale cellular purification, such as outlined in the Sigma agreement; and high-throughput opto-injection of biomolecules into cells.

The latter area is the only one left for which Cyntellect has not announced a major partnership.

"We've got ongoing discussions [in that area]," Linton said. "It's not clear what direction we're going to take for the partnership, but we've got major players interested in taking an ownership stake in that piece of [the] business."

Linton said that it was difficult to quantify which of the three markets promised the most potential revenue, but the cell purification market may offer the widest range of potential applications.

"There are many markets where cell purification can and will play a role, ranging from agricultural biology, to biopharmaceutical manufacturing, to drug discovery and development and life sciences research; and also, in therapeutics," Linton said. "So the company is strategically introducing its cell purification technology where it can make the biggest impact in the near term, while we cultivate the other large market opportunities that require a longer germination period."

To that end, Cyntellect will soon be commercializing LEAP as an instrumentation platform that people can actually buy and put in their lab to use as they see fit, as opposed to licensing the technology out to select customers or performing services in collaboration with the customer.

"One of the platforms is not commercially available yet, but there will be an announcement relating to that sometime in the calendar year," Linton said. "We anticipate announcing at least one relationship where we'll be starting to cell LEAP systems."

— BB

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