Global Life Science Solutions, a division of nonprofit public health and safety company NSF International, said this week that it is looking to expand the high-content analysis services portion of its business.
In 2004, the last year for which Internal Revenue tax records are available, the company earned $59 million in total revenue, of which $759,000 was from toxicology consulting. Aline Lindbeck, GLS general manager, told CBA News this week she estimates that 10 percent of GLS’s revenue comes from its HCA services.
“Right now, we are very excited about the partnership that we have with a company that focuses on high-throughput screening,” said Lindbeck.
The partner company’s focus is complementary to HCA, Lindbeck said. She also said that the collaboration is giving GLS an opportunity to work with a number of pharmaceutical companies and gain more exposure to potential HCA clients, making it a key partnership for the expansion of GLS’s business.
According to Lindbeck, GLS has been involved in this partnership for about three months. She declined to name GLS’s partner, however, citing a lack of permission.
In the group that supports the HCA, GLS currently has four employees, two at the technician level and two scientists with advanced degrees, Mark Jackson, a senior scientist at GLS, told CBA News this week. The company has one HCA instrument — Cellomics’ ArrayScan platform, which is sold by Thermo Fisher.
Lindbeck said that GLS chose to work with Cellomics for several reasons. It knew one of the key scientists there who has been instrumental in developing their platform. In addition, a GLS employee had previous experience with this platform while working at a large pharmaceutical company.
In general, the company’s HCA customers are pharmaceutical companies, Jackson said. GLS has also been working with a number of nanotechnology companies.
Often those nanotechnology companies come to GLS because they do not want to jump directly into expensive animal studies to look at toxicity, said Lindbeck. They need a more economical primary screen.
Lindbeck and Jackson declined to name GLS’s clients.
The company has done experiments such as oxidative stress, cell permeability, lysosomal pH, some in vitro genetics such as micronucleus assays, and G-protein coupled receptor assays, said Jackson. It can do a number of different assays, and can also develop a number of specific assays for a client, depending on their needs and the endpoint that they are trying to evaluate.
Jackson said that HCA is basically an extension of the types of testing and consulting services that GLS was already providing. The company was starting to work with the pharmaceutical industry because it has such a large laboratory service at its disposal, he said, and HCA services just seemed to fit.
GLS also wanted to provide other clients, such as manufacturers of nanomaterials, with a way of assessing their products and the potential toxicity associated with them.
Pharmaceutical and biotech companies outsource HCA services because it’s very expensive, in terms of both the equipment and the expertise needed to run the equipment, Jackson said. Full-time staff needs to be hired and trained. In addition, storing the HCA images is associated with a significant cost because a very large database is required.
“The key is communication and collaboration between the HCA services company and its client pharmaceutical company.”
Lindbeck pointed out that the other expense is time. When GLS started getting into HCA, she said, the staff was trained during a six- to nine-month start up period. However, they really needed hands-on experience, to know how to run and trouble shoot these assays. If a company wanted to get into in-house HCA screening today, they might not be fully up and running for about another year, she said.
“From my understanding, there’s no difference between the results of HCA that has been outsourced compared to the results of HCA done in-house,” Jackson said. He said that GLS has spoken to Cellomics about comparisons between the data that have been generated by pharmaceutical companies and the data that GLS, Cellomics, and other HCA services companies have generated, and it was determined that there is no difference.
Lindbeck agreed, and said that she thinks the key is communication and collaboration between the HCA services company and its client pharmaceutical company, particularly if assay development is required.
HCA outsourcing appears to be a growing trend, said Lindbeck.The first companies that had access to these types of platforms were large, well-funded pharmaceutical houses that would not bat an eye about spending a couple of million dollars on equipment.
Lindbeck thinks that because mid- to small-size companies do not have the money to invest in HCA equipment and do not have nearly as many leads that they are looking at, they do not need the volume that larger companies do, so it makes more sense for them to outsource their HCA.
Mark Collins, marketing manager for cellular imaging at Cellomics agreed that HCA outsourcing is an emerging trend, telling CBA News this week in an e-mail that some aspects of the drug-discovery process, such as toxicology studies, have traditionally been outsourced anyway. He went on to say that if HCA is being used for toxicology studies, then it too will be outsourced.
Collins said that Cerep, for example, uses Cellomics’ Micronucleus assay and instrument to do genotoxicity testing as a service to pharmaceutical companies.