Finnish startups Chip-Man and ArcDia this week announced a collaboration to develop a fluorescence detection module for Chip-Man's flagship live-cell analysis system Cell-IQ.
Chip-Man hopes the add-on will allow it to market Cell-IQ more squarely into the drug-discovery and functional genomics markets, as the instrument will now be able to monitor in real time protein expression and cell morphological changes.
Launched in 2002 as a spin-off from the University of Tampere, Technical University of Tampere, and the Finnish Research Organization, Chip-Man was to be a vehicle for bringing a kinetic, live-cell monitoring system to market.
Borne of the founders' expertise in electrical R&D and machine vision, the platform, called Cell-IQ, is based on phase contrast microscopy, and has been primarily marketed as a tool for continuous monitoring of cell culture. Chip-Man has also been touting its platform as a tool for drug discovery, citing its ability to monitor cells without labels, which could disrupt normal cellular physiology.
But the fact of the matter remained that the drug-discovery market is thirsty for technologies that allow researchers to monitor protein expression, movement, or interactions, and fluorescence labeling is far and away the gold standard for such experiments.
"It's a small country, and people tend to know each other's expertise."
In order to fund next-generation development of the tool, Chip-Man raised €1.4 million ($1.8 million) in VC cash from Aura Capital and Finnish Industry Investment last March (see CBA News, 3/29/2005). It made the addition of fluorescence detection technology a priority and looked no farther than the boundaries of its homeland to do so, tapping Turku-based ArcDia, a 1993 spin-off of the University of Turku.
ArcDia, short for Arctic Diagnostics, plays primarily in the clinical space, marketing platforms such as two-photon excitation immunoassay systems and cell-based detection systems for bacterial infection. However, according to vice president of technology transfer and engineering Juhani Soini, the company has a long history of expertise in fluorescence imaging.
Soini's father, Erkki, was vice president of R&D for more than 25 years with Finnish firm Wallac, which is currently a Finnish branch of PerkinElmer Life Sciences. ArcDia is as close to a "mom-and-pop" operation as there is in biotechnology, as Aleksi Soini, who is Erkki's son and Juhani's brother, serves as the company's director of research.
"It's a small country, and people tend to know each other's expertise, and that's why we naturally collaborated with Chip-Man," Juhani Soini said.
Although he was unable to provide details about the fluorescence detection module because it is not yet ready for market, Soini said that it will allow several types of assays to be run on Cell-IQ that were not previously possible specifically, assays for GFP-labeled proteins and intrinsically fluorescent proteins.
"It will allow assays for the protein production machinery," Soini said. "So by being able to measure the protein content in cells, you can see some things that are not immediately reflected in the morphological analysis.
"For example, you could use siRNA inhibition assays and see how they are affecting certain biochemical or biological pathways," Soini added. "It is actually a complementary technique. It's excellent to have the matching imaging based on machine vision and phase contrast microscopy, because it's very useful for phenotyping."
Soini said that although Chip-Man will likely continue marketing Cell-IQ heavily as a tool for cell culture monitoring, the fluorescence-detection capabilities open the door further for the drug-discovery and systems biology markets.
It is unclear when Chip-Man will release the new product, or whether it has beta-testers lined up. Chip-Man officials could not be reached for comment prior to this publication. Soini said that Chip-Man would be best suited to comment on the product's development timeline, but added that the new module "shouldn't take too long."
The next step for Chip-Man is to penetrate the North American market. Currently, the company has distributors in several European countries, but has yet to cross the Atlantic, despite saying in March 2005 that it planned to launch its product in the US later that year and in Japan this year.
Chip-Man's first US road show will now be in September at the Society for Biomolecular Sciences annual meeting in Seattle.
Ben Butkus ([email protected])