Chip-Man Technologies, an early-stage company based in Tampere, Finland, is taking steps to expand the market for its Cell-IQ live-cell monitoring system into the United States.
After launching the system in Europe in early 2005, Chip-Man officially introduced the Cell-IQ to the US market at last month’s annual meeting of the Society for Biomolecular Sciences in Seattle.
The company has also tapped SBS founder and current president Al Kolb to serve as its business development manager for North America.
Stuart Webb, director of marketing and sales for Chip-Man, said that recruiting a well-respected industry veteran like Kolb was “a major bonus for us.” Kolb has led the “pre-launch” of the Cell-IQ in the US and will assist the company as it establishes a larger sales team in the US over the next six to eight months, Webb said.
Chip-Man is focusing first on the Eastern US, and has begun demonstrating the Cell-IQ at a number of sites, Webb said. The firm also plans to set up a “reference site” somewhere in the Eastern US soon, he said.
Kolb’s appointment and the US launch follow a recent ramp-up in the company’s European sales force. Last month, the firm tapped Jane Spencer-Fry — a veteran of BioVeris and Amersham — as vice president of European sales. [CBA News 09-22-06].
In addition, Webb said that Chip-Man expects to focus its marketing efforts on Japan next year, and has already identified a distribution partner for the Japanese market, although he declined to identify the distributor.
Chip-Man’s Cell-IQ platform uses machine vision — an artificial intelligence method — to monitor cells in real time without the need for labels and dyes. The company claims that the technology can record and quantify changes in cell morphology and physiology down to the single-cell level.
In Europe, the platform has caught on in a number of markets, according to Webb. “The stem cell market has very actively taken up our system, and the pharmaceutical industry for safety testing, ADME, and cell biology,” he said.
While the stem cell market is “flourishing” in Europe, Webb acknowledged that current restrictions on stem cell research in the US could hamper sales of the system for that application on this side of the Atlantic. However, he said that hasn’t dampened the company’s expectations for the US market.
The firm demonstrated the Cell-IQ at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Toronto this summer, he said, noting that there was “a great deal of interest” in the system.
Kolb told Cell-Based Assay News that initial feedback from potential US customers has been positive. “I’ve given a number of seminars on this product, and they’re really amazed with some of the time-lapse videos that we can show them of cells doing different things, and quantitating those things — cell differentiation, growth, wound healing — things that they can see happen to the same set of cells over a long period of time,” he said. “And then they say, ‘Can you really do this?’ So, like any new product, we have to show them that it can be done, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing.”
Kolb said that the Cell-IQ’s label-free approach offers a number of advantages over platforms that rely on fluorescent labels. The primary benefit, he noted, is that “you don’t have to kill the cells.” Rather than fix and stain multiple sets of cells at different developmental stages, “You look at cells at day one when they’re untreated and you see how they’re behaving, how they’re acting under normal circumstances. And then you treat the cells or you stimulate some change in them, and then you watch that cell change over time in real time.”
“People are always concerned that any time you add something artificial to a cell it will somehow affect the way that cell behaves.”
In addition to capturing the behavior of cells in real time, the label-free approach guarantees that researchers are witnessing only those physiological changes associated with their experimental design.
“People are always concerned that any time you add something artificial to a cell it will somehow affect the way that cell behaves,” Kolb said. “So are you really looking at the cell function that you want to look at, or are you looking at some perturbation because the fluorescent dye is affecting the cell, and in some cases, killing the cell?”
Kolb noted that with the label-free approach, “You don’t see all the same things that you might with fluorescence.” However, he added, “you certainly see a more realistic image of what the cells are doing, and I think the cell biologists see that as a very important thing.”