DiscoverX, a drug discovery service provider with offices in Fremont, Calif., and Birmingham, UK, will now be conducting additional operations out of an office in Tokyo, thanks to an agreement signed last week with life sciences sales and distribution firm B-Bridge International.
Although DiscoverX has maintained relationships with three of the biotech industry’s biggest reagent providers — Amersham (now GE Healthcare), Stratagene, and BD Clontech — it hadn’t to this point taken a strong position in a Japanese drug-discovery market, which is ripe with opportunity to sell the high-throughput screening services that are the core of DiscoverX’s business.
“The B-Bridge agreement … allows us to provide, for the first time, regional sales and technical support to Japanese customers within Japan, having someone there that is actually knowledgeable, rather than a distributorship,” Sailaja Kuchibhatla, DiscoverX’s vice president for business and development told Inside Bioassays last week. “It’s a closer working relationship with the customer. We can now provide the level of support that all our customers in the US are getting.”
From B-Bridge International’s viewpoint, the deal represents the company’s first foray into the high-throughput screening market. Prior to this, B-Bridge had provided regional assistance from one of its international offices for a number of biotech clients, ranging from RNAi companies to cell line providers to microarray slide manufacturers.
Paul Diehl, director of marketing and services for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based B-Bridge, said that his company owns the lion’s share of the market in Japan — about 40 percent — for RNAi-related products, and has established relationships with many of Japan’s drug discovery and development companies that it feels will be beneficial to DiscoverX.
“In addition to working with companies to do distribution and manufacturing, at some point a company will typically want to go more direct,” Diehl said. “We are willing to take a more active role in helping a company transition from a distributor model into a direct sales office, and that’s really where we came into the picture with DiscoverX.
“They’re at the point now where they were ready to do something in Japan more directly,” he continued. “If you’re familiar with the Japanese market, it’s somewhat hierarchical. There are distributors, and then a number of local dealers that you go through for the local accounts, and then sometimes there are even sub-dealers or several hundred local dealers. It’s a little difficult to get to the end-user customers.”
Diehl said that out of its Tokyo office, B-Bridge will be setting up an office for DiscoverX, hiring employees, and managing the logistics for the office and operations. “Basically it frees them up so they can focus 100 percent of their efforts on sales and marketing,” Diehl added.
“The high-throughout market is very sales oriented,” Diehl said. “There are large numbers of assays, and you basically contract with a company to do 10,000 or 100,000 assays for a particular compound, so it’s very sales driven.
“You need someone there that can talk with them, understand what the customer’s seeking, really work with them to format the assay specifically for what they’re looking for at that time period, until they finish with that assay and move onto the next,” he added.
DiscoverX will look to increase sales mainly of its HitHunter line of chemiluminescent high-throughput screening assays, which are currently designed for assaying against G-protein coupled receptor and kinase drug targets. Kuchibhatla said that the HitHunter products are all based on the core technology upon which the company was founded: The enzyme fragment complementation assay.
This mix-and-read biochemical assay, Kuchibhatla said, is ideal for high-throughput screening because it is a positive-signal assay. “You’re not measuring loss of signal, but gain in signal, and that results in a lot fewer false positives,” she said.
“It’s homogeneous, and that’s really the most well-liked aspect of the product,” she added. “There aren’t multiple washes or anything — you just add one reagent after the other and you get the signal. Because it is such high-affinity complementation, the reproducibility, signal, and sensitivity are really high.”
Furthermore, Kuchibhatla said, one of DiscoverX’s major competitive product offerings is a cyclic-AMP based GPCR assay, and that the company offers a variety of readout formats besides chemiluminescence, such as fluorescence polarization and quenching.
“And in all these products you don’t really require special equipment,” she said. “They are standard microtiter plate formats. If it’s chemiluminescent, it’s a standard luminometer, and they’re found in almost all research labs. If it’s a [fluorescence polarization] assay, then you need an FP reader. But the basic enzyme fragment does not require any special instrument.”
Most of DiscoverX’s assays are biochemical, and performed on fresh cell lysate. The company does have interest in further developing its live-cell assay product offerings, and feels that the same concept behind the HitHunter product can make for successful cell-based assays.
“Like everyone else we see the demand for cell-based assays increasing in the marketplace,” Kuchibhatla said. “But there are significant bottlenecks, and we think that’s where we can add value. The bottlenecks are that they are not yet ultra high-throughput, they’re not simple, and they’re not scalable. They’re still very much imaging-based.
“We believe that with our technology, even in the cell-based assay format, we can kind of duplicate it as it is in a biochemical assay, and we can make it simple, robust, and easily duplicated in microtiter plate formats,” she added. “We should be seeing many assays in that area next year.”
As for DiscoverX’s existing distributor partnerships, Kuchibhatla told Inside Bioasasys that its relationship with GE Healthcare is the same as it was with Amersham, and that she doesn’t anticipate the company’s relationship with BD Clontech to change despite its pending sale by BD Biosciences.