Evotec has taken a worldwide, non-exclusive license to the core HCS patent portfolio held by Fisher Biosciences' Cellomics unit, the companies said this week. In addition, the firms said they plan to co-develop and co-market HCS tools in an attempt to strengthen their position in the market.
For Cellomics, the development and marketing deal may help it enter the higher throughput confocal HCS space, and reinforce its strong IP position. For Evotec, the license will enable its customers to safely practice HCS, while the co-development and -marketing pact may help broaden its market reach.
Specifically, terms of the co-development and co-marketing agreement call for Cellomics' assays to be validated on Evotec's Opera confocal reader, and for its informatics and data-mining software to be integrated with Opera.
This is the third time Cellomics has licensed its core HCS patent portfolio to another HCS vendor, and it underscores Cellomics' strong intellectual property position in the marketplace.
But the benefits of the alliance for Cellomics may extend beyond potential licensing revenues. Evotec is one of three vendors to offer a high-end, higher-throughput confocal-based HCS reader, called Opera, and it occupies a market niche in which Cellomics had not previously played.
"We're hoping that through this collaborative activity we can engage in other activities that are yet to be determined."
For Cellomics, coupling the Opera system with its own lamp-based benchtop CellWorx scanner (which is sold through a co-marketing agreement with Applied Precision), along with its existing ArrayScan and KineticScan platforms, arms it with a top-to-bottom imaging offering to rival those of Molecular Devices and GE Healthcare.
The announcement actually came in the same week that Molecular Devices officially unveiled a high-end confocal HCS reader that it expects will compete with Evotec Tech's Opera and GE Healthcare's IN Cell Analyzer 3000 (see CBA News, 1/27/2006).
Although both announcements seemingly were intended to coincide with this week's Cambridge Healthtech Institute High-Content Analysis meeting in San Francisco, good old-fashioned competition could have played into the timing of the two agreements, too.
Molecular Devices had been hinting for the past several weeks that it would be launching a high-end confocal imaging platform to round out its revamped imaging strategy. And, as CBA News reported last week, the new instrument would have made Molecular Devices one of three vendors to offer such a platform (with Evotec and GE Healthcare being the other two), and only one of two vendors (along with GE Healthcare) to sell imaging platforms running the gamut from low-end bench-top types to high-end screening lab versions.
Now Cellomics and Evotec may be able to join that club, although neither one technically sells the full complement of imagers through their direct sales channels.
"We actually see a lot of synergy between Evotec's products and our products, and they don't actually compete," Judy Masucci, Cellomics' director of marketing, told CBA News. "Evotec's product is a very high-end product; our systems are kind of medium-end; and with our relationship with Applied Precision and CellWorx, we kind of have a low-end offering, as well.
"Even though the Opera is not a Cellomics offering — it's [from] a separate company — through some marketing and co-development activities, we'd be able to take advantage of the fact that a lot of our customers own both systems … and [use them] in parallel," Masucci added. "We're hoping that through this collaborative activity we can engage in other activities that are yet to be determined."
One of those immediate activities will be validating various Cellomics assay kits on Evotec's Opera platform.
"Our assay kits are compatible with a lot more than just our instrumentation," Masucci said. "You can use anything, from something as simple as a microscope, to [something] as sophisticated as a high-end confocal system, and still use the same kit.
"The benefit you get when using our kits with our system is that they're already validated," she added. "Validation of the use of our kits with the Evotec system just eliminates the amount of work a customer has to do on their own to get up and running with these kits."
Another specific part of the co-development agreement will see Cellomics develop an interface between its informatics and data-analysis software and the Opera via Cellomics' HCS Gateway product. This is similar to an interface that Cellomics created last year for GE Healthcare's IN Cell Analyzer, and could lead to increased sales for Cellomics' HCS informatics offerings, often considered the company's strongest point.
"When we say that [Opera] is complementary to [Cellomics'] platform, of course we see the potential that this can pay off"
From Evotec's perspective, one of the main benefits of the alliance is that its customers can now practice various methods characterized as high-content screening under the patent portfolio that Cellomics has gathered since the early 1990s.
"Our customers asked us to work together, so that was one driver," Gunter Bauer, Evotec Technologies' chief business officer told CBA News. "From our point of view, the value is to give our customers the assurance that everything is OK with what they are doing. We made it easier for our customers to work in these areas, and there is a whole list of patents."
Evotec Tech is the third HCS vendor — following on the heels of BD Biosciences (see CBA News, 11/16/2004) and GE Healthcare (see CBA News, 6/29/2004) — to license Cellomics' core HCS patent portfolio. Molecular Devices is the only major HCS vendor that hasn't yet licensed Cellomics' patents (see Sidebar).
According to Masucci, this portfolio comprises an undisclosed subset of all of Cellomics patents. Although Cellomics does not disclose which specific patents or the number of patents that are included, broadly speaking they protect the use of specific types of imaging for drug discovery. Examples include assays for cytoplasm-nuclear translocation, characterization of cellular toxicity, and receptor internalization.
But for Evotec, the assay validation and integration with Cellomics' informatics software have their own benefits, according to Bauer.
"We have to show that the assays Cellomics sells are working on our confocal reader," he said. "You cannot say immediately that everything will run one-to-one on Opera. These assays are approved and recognized, so it's beneficial to make these assays also available on the Opera."
As far as Cellomics' informatics offerings go, Bauer said that "we see that both companies have strengths in different areas of software." He also referred to Evotec's recently announced collaboration with Genedata for HCS informatics. "That's part of or policy — not to reinvent the wheel, but to collaborate," Bauer said. "And that's also our idea here."
One last benefit of the alliance for both companies may be lead sharing. As Masucci previously mentioned, the companies share several customers who use a Cellomics instrument for assay development and secondary screening and an Evotec instrument for large-scale screening of compound libraries.
Consequently, future sales of Cellomics' instruments could lead to sales for Evotec, and vice-versa.
"That could be a way in which we collaborate — lead sharing, and other things like that," Masucci said. "It hasn't yet been finalized, so the details of it are not completely online. We have agreed that we'd like to co-develop and co-market our systems together, and certainly lead sharing would likely be a part of that."
"We hope so," said Bauer. "That's the way we are looking at it today, that our instruments are complementary. When you talk about a win-win situation, you always want to increase your market strength. On the other hand, the customers had asked us to work together, so we responded to [them]. But when we say that [Opera] is complementary to [Cellomics'] platform, of course we see the potential that this can pay off," he added.
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])
Molecular Devices May Be Next In Line to License Cellomics' Patents
Molecular Devices is the last of four major HCS vendors that hasn't yet licensed Cellomics' patents. Will that soon change?
Evotec Technologies is the third major high-content screening vendor to license Cellomics' core HCS patent portfolio.
In late 2004, BD Biosciences licensed the patents on the heels of its acquisition of Atto Bioscience, so that users of the Atto Pathway HT could engage in the types of imaging assays enabled by the Pathway and protected by Cellomics' IP estate.
And earlier in 2004, GE Healthcare licensed the patents to allow users of its IN Cell Analyzer 1000 and 3000 instruments similar freedom to practice HCS methods.
When asked whether the research that for-profit scientists perform when using Molecular Devices' imaging platforms infringes upon Cellomics' IP, Judy Masucci, Cellomics' director of marketing, declined comment.
Similarly, a representative for Molecular Devices declined comment, but confirmed the company had not licensed the pertinent IP from Cellomics.
One executive from a drug-discovery company, who wished to remain anonymous because of his close ties to both Cellomics and Molecular Devices, speculated that it was likely that Molecular Devices would license the HCS IP sometime this year.
"I think partly what you're seeing is the consolidation of the industry forcing companies to take license to Cellomics' IP as the methods are used more often in pharmaceutical research," the executive said. "In addition, prior to being acquired by Fisher, Cellomics may not have had the muscle or resources to try and enforce its IP."