Odyssey Thera has recently purchased a pair of Evotec Technologies Opera high-content screening platforms for use in-house in conjunction with its own protein-complementation assay technology, CBA News learned last week.
By taking this step, the fledgling drug maker has become the latest firm to see high-content screening instrumentation as a way to increase its drug-discovery chances.
Although Evotec Technologies didn't officially announce the new customer, it is likely welcome news to the subsidiary of German drug-discovery company Evotec OAI: Evotec Tech's revenues have slumped for three straight quarters, primarily due to lackluster Opera sales. Evotec has blamed the decline on the launch of a new version of the platform in Q2, causing a lag in instrument sales that spanned nine months as customers awaited the new product, and then started buying it as it was released (see CBA News, 5/16/2005).
Odyssey purchased the Operas "a few months ago," Marnie MacDonald, president and CEO of Odyssey told CBA News last week. MacDonald was unable to confirm whether Odyssey had purchased the newer version of the Opera.
Last April, MacDonald told CBA News that Odyssey was using "a variety of off-the-shelf instrumentation from several companies" to conduct its PCA analyses, including techniques such as automated microscopy, well-plate scanning, and flow cytometry. She also said at that the time that "in most cases we do fluorescence image analysis." (See CBA News, 4/20/2004)
"It's the best way for us to get all of the information we need. We get both the high-content and high-throughput [data]."
Last week, however, MacDonald confirmed that Odyssey has been leaning toward one technology: Evotec Opera.
"It's not limited to that, but it's the best way for us to get all of the information we need," she said. "We get both the high-content and high-throughput [data]. For some of our assays, we need the sub-cellular localization, and for others, it's more of a bulk fluorescent signal."
MacDonald added that its PCA technology is "not necessarily limited" to confocal or confocal-like imaging systems, but "for efficiency purposes, we don't want to have to use multiple instruments. This way we really can get everything we want with a single platform. I'm pretty sold on it, and we're running tens of thousands of wells a day."
For Evotec, the direct revenue it will see from the Odyssey placement may only be part of the benefit. Odyssey's PCA technology has been taken up in the drug-screening sector as the company has, in the past year-and-a-half, landed pharma customers such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer, and Merck in the past year, and, most recently, the National Institutes of Health Chemical Genomics Center (see related story, this issue).
It is reasonable to assume that if Odyssey successfully completes screening campaigns for its pharma customers using its PCA technology in combination with Evotec Opera, then these drug makers would eventually find increased value in purchasing their own Opera platforms (or additional ones, if they already have them in use).
Interestingly however, the NCGC — the only Odyssey customer that will use the PCA technology in-house as opposed to contracting Odyssey to do the work — is currently eschewing automated microscopy platforms, and instead will be using a TTP Labtech Acumen Explorer in combination with the PCA cell lines it obtains from Odyssey.
"There is no GFP signal in these assays until you activate the cell with a stimulus; or, there is a GFP signal that goes away when you disrupt the interaction," Jim Inglese, NCGC's deputy director, told CBA News last week. "So it's something that I believe will hopefully improve the signal-to-background when we're working with fluorescent protein-based cell assays. Either the GFP has to be expressed as a reporter protein, or what's more commonly done is that they're attached to a protein, and you look at their movement around the cell. That requires, in most cases, an automated microscope of some sort," he said.
"I'm pretty sold on it, and we're running tens of thousands of wells a day."
However, Inglese believes that the PCA technology's ability to pinpoint specific cellular pathway components combined with the Acumen Explorer's knack for rapidly detecting fluorescent signals is powerful enough to conduct the types of cell-based screens that NCGC is currently interested in.
"We're staying away from the microscope-based imaging for now," Inglese said. "[The Acumen Explorer] is a laser-scanning imaging device, and is very rapid, but it of course doesn't have a microscope associated with it. So you can't take advantage of a lot of the finer features of the cellular events that the Odyssey technology would be good for as well. But this is part of the whole plan for us to step in to this arena of cellular assays."
This is not to say that NCGC may never adopt an automated microscope such as the Evotec Opera. In fact, Inglese alluded to some early work that the NCGC is doing with Danish biotech BioImage, whose popular Redistribution fluorescent translocation assays require a decidedly more image-based approach.
"Their assay is more of the pure translocation type, so we currently have to work with assays that give very definitive changes in cellular distribution of GFP," Inglese said. "For instance, cytosol to nucleus, we can do it with the Acumen. But we don't think we can do — although we don't know for sure yet — some of the more subtle changes in GFP migration around the cell, like ruffling of the cell — things you can see clearly with a microscope but not with a scanner."
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])