Upstart biotech firm Guava has further expanded its market presence, inking an exclusive three-year distribution deal with GE Healthcare that will see GE selling Guava’s PCA (Personal Cell Analysis) systems in South Korea, Mexico, and “certain countries in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Guava said last week.
For Guava, this marks the second major distribution deal this year involving the PCA instrument, the first being a Feb. 23 agreement with then Amersham Biosciences. In that three-year, exclusive pact, Amersham agreed to distribute the PCA in its Japanese sales territory. But in April, GE acquired Amersham, essentially folding the company — and its cellular analysis portfolio, including the IN Cell Analyzer and GFP licensing rights — into GE Healthcare’s biosciences division.
Last week’s deal was technically the first, then, signed between Guava and the revamped biosciences unit. In late April, Rajen Dalal, Guava’s CEO, told Inside Bioassays that he did not expect the GE acquisition to negatively affect Guava’s relationship with Amersham, and it appears as if this latest deal affirms that expectation. (See Inside Bioassays, 4/27/2004).
Of course, there hasn’t yet been a tremendous amount of change at the former Amersham, as GE Healthcare continues to sort through its newly acquired product offerings and gain a foothold in the cellular analysis, proteomics, and genomic analysis arenas. For the time being, its biosciences division headquarters are located in Little Chalfont, UK — Amersham’s former headquarters — while clicking on the biosciences link on GE Healthcare’s website steers customers to the old Amersham website.
For Guava, the decision to further take advantage of GE Healthcare and Amersham’s combined global presence was a no-brainer, according to Paul Kinnon, vice president of sales and marketing for the Hayward, Calif.-based company.
“Korea’s obviously a growing market in terms of … small biotechs and pharmas, and there’s a good amount of spending going on there,” Kinnon said. “And in fact, the GE organization is very strong in Korea.
“In Latin America, there’s an unmet need there,” Kinnon added. “There are a lot of people carrying out basic research in academia and also on generic drugs, and GE also has a very strong presence there, so this gives us an automatic setup of an organization there that’s able to penetrate the market quickly.”
From GE Healthcare’s standpoint, besides any financial windfall, Guava’s instrument platform may be an attractive product to bundle with the IN Cell Analyzer. The products are certainly complementary on several levels. GE representatives could not be reached in time for this publication, but in April, Keith Olson, Guava’s director of product commercialization, told Inside Bioassays that pharmaceutical companies might use the pricier IN Cell instrument to run ultra-high throughput primary screens, while performing secondary screening on the relatively inexpensive and more accessible PCA.
Last week, Kinnon said that there are a few other important ways in which the PCA complements the IN Cell, most prominently for quality control of cells before and during screening campaigns.
“If you’re doing a lot of screens on the IN Cell 3000 … the PCA-96 can be used as a cell-profiling system to do QC of your cells before you screen,” Kinnon said. “If you don’t screen those cells and just put them on the IN Cell, then on day one, you could have eighty percent viable cells, and on day four you could have sixty percent viable cells.
“Your control wells will pick that up in the IN Cell assay, but that’s too late — you’ve run the assay and spent money,” Kinnon added. “We prevent that from happening by doing cell health — looking at viability, apoptosis, cell cycle, and expression levels, and determining what the profile of the cell line is before you screen. If you don’t know what the cells are doing before you screen them, your data’s all off.”
Kinnon also said that the PCA can perform some tasks more efficiently than a larger, more complicated system like the IN Cell can — in particular, assay development.
“To build an assay on a high-content screening system will probably take you two, three, or four days, because you’ve got to build the algorithm, play around with it, optimize it, and go offline and work on it,” Kinnon said. “With [the PCA], assay development takes about a fourth or fifth of that time, because the modules are there, it’s easy to use, and it also uses microvolumes, so you use a lot less sample.”
Finally, Kinnon said, bioprocessing is a large portion of GE Healthcare’s business, and is another area where monitoring cell viability and gene expression is crucial to increased efficiency — thus providing another application for the PCA. He added that Guava already sells instruments into the pharmaceutical and biotech markets for this purpose.
As far as a product bundle goes, there are no specific plans in the works, but GE Healthcare certainly has the authority to do so, Kinnon said.
“There are some opportunities for bundling of the products,” Kinnon said. “At the moment, they can do that on a regional basis, but it’s not available on a local basis. For instance, in Japan, if they want to sell [the PCA] with an IN Cell Analyzer, there’s nothing that’s stopping them because they’ve got the distribution rights.”