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GE Healthcare Taps Microbix Viral Vectors As Transfection Solution for Cellular Assays

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GE Healthcare continues to add to its toolbox for high-content cellular analysis.

Last week, the company penned a deal with Toronto-based Microbix Biosystems in which Microbix will apply its AdMax technology to develop a suite of recombinant adenovirus vectors to be used with GE’s IN Cell Analyzer cellular imaging systems.

“Scientists at GE were familiar with the … technology from journal articles and technical presentations, and approached Microbix,” said William Gastle, Microbix’ CEO and president, in an e-mail last week. “They licensed the technology from us and were pleased with the results, so [they] approached us about participating in the scale-up of virus production, expertise Microbix is well known for. GE’s scientists are skilled at construction of viruses and developing assays, and we are skilled at large-scale virus production,” he wrote. “Our participation could help them get new assays on the market more quickly.”

According to an official statement, AdMax will allow GE Healthcare to develop a “range of ready-to-use assays … to enable researchers to study key cellular events in real-time and in a cell line of choice.”

John Sutton, vice president of product management for cell analysis and screening at GE Healthcare, told Inside Bioassays that the move was meant to allow assay customers more flexibility when it comes to transfecting cells for subsequent screening experiments. Specifically, he cited GE’s GFP translocation assays, pH-sensitive dye assays, and a new red-shifted gene reporter assay.

“We’ve been selling [the assays] as stable cell lines,” Sutton said. “And that’s very good — customers find that very useful — but a lot of the customer feedback has been: ‘Instead of that cell line, I’d like it to be my cell line.’

“And you can imagine a business model where we did this on a custom basis,” Sutton continued. “But that would be very laborious in terms of the number of cell lines. So this is a quick way to be able to do that, where we can use the vector to infect any cell line of choice.”

Although primarily a biological and vaccine development company, Microbix has a variety of proprietary cell and molecular biology tools in its portfolio that it uses in its internal efforts and also offers to industrial-scale biotechnology partners. These tools, broadly characterized as bioreagents, include antigens, antibodies, and viral vectors to transfect cells for the production of the reagents.

The Microbix technology at the core of the GE deal is its AdMax adenovirus production system. Gastle said that the “technology has been used successfully by many academic institutions and several commercial operations” — customers named on its website include Biogen, Regeneron, and Columbia University.

But the GE Healthcare deal marks the first use of AdMax for commercial, high-content cellular assays. And although specific financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed, the deal should also be a big financial windfall for Microbix. Gastle wrote that it marks “the first significant revenue opportunity” for the technology.

Sutton said that GE selected Microbix to provide adenoviral vectors because of the company’s “good track record” and that “they understand the requirements for quality and robustness on the performance of the materials we want to supply to our customers.” Sutton also cited Microbix’ extensive collaborations with adenovirus expert Frank Graham of McMasters University.

Packaged Solution

The Microbix agreement is just the latest in a flurry of deals GE has made to support the company’s effort to broaden its portfolio of drug discovery tools.

A little over a month ago, Sutton told Inside Bioassays that the goal of GE Healthcare’s cell analysis and screening division was to provide its customers with a broad array of solutions pertaining to high-content cellular analysis and drug discovery. In June, GE Healthcare said it had licensed the rights to GFP-related methods to Bristol-Myers Squibb and Regeneron for use in those companies drug screening programs. (See Inside Bioassays, 6/15/2004). GE acquired the rights to license the technology following its April acquisition of Amersham Biosciences.

Later that month, the company announced that it was licensing Cellomics’ core intellectual property for high-content screening methods, and a week later it said that Cellomics would be designing an interface between the IN Cell instruments and Cellomics’ image analysis and management software. (See Inside Bioassays 7/6/2004 and 6/29/2004 for more).

And it doesn’t appear as if the company will be resting on its laurels any time soon. “Generally, we are always on the lookout to be able to put package technologies or reagents for customers’ needs,” Sutton said, although he declined to disclose any specific plans at this time.

Sutton added that GE sees this approach as being relatively novel in the field of cellular analysis. “This is something that’s not really been done very much in the field of cellular science,” he said. “There have been a number of instruments out there … but very few reagents and applications that can be used on a particular system. For sub-cellular imaging of this sort, we see the possibilities as being virtually limitless.”

—BB

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