Millipore and Guava Technologies have entered into a broad-based partnership to develop and market integrated flow-cytometry solutions, the companies announced this week.
According to a Millipore official, the collaboration comprises four parts: Millipore will gain exclusive rights to distribute Guava’s non-clinical instrumentation within defined fields in Europe, North America, and certain Asian countries, including Japan, Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, India, and Australia; provide field service for all of Guava’s instruments in those locations; develop co-branded reagent kits designed specifically for Guava’s flow cytometers; and co-develop with Guava a “new generation of flow cytometers based on the needs of cell biologists.”
Alan Weiss, Millipore’s director of strategy and business development, said the instruments will represent a robust alternative to scientists currently using Western blotting, immunohistochemistry, or immunocytochemistry.
“We believe that Guava’s flow cytometer is well-positioned, in terms of its performance, to address the applications that we believe will be emerging and fast-growing,” Weiss said.
Matthew Hsu, R&D director of cell-based assay development for Millipore, told CBA News that the company will begin selling the cytometers on July 1 and launch the first reagent kits in the third quarter.
Millipore’s plan to distribute Guava platforms in the North American academic sector will allow Guava to focus on other markets, such as pharmaceuticals, biotech, and clinical, Guava CEO Lawrence Bruder told CBA News.
“We think biotech, pharma, and academic/basic research are all target markets. We think that this has relevance all over the place,” he added.
“[This agreement] will allow us to start building the company around pharma, primarily, and really expand [its footprint] in the clinical marketplace,” he added.
Also, since Guava is located near San Francisco and Millipore has a site near San Diego, the deal is geographically convenient for the shops to work together.
Hsu added that Millipore has recently reorganized some of its antibody staff to work on this project, and that the company has a budget to hire four new R&D people. He said that he does not expect the sales team to increase, however.
Hsu said each of the reagent kits that the companies will be developing must contain at least three antibodies for three distinct markers. “They can be positive or negative markers for any particular cellular event, for example stem cell differentiation,” he said.
In addition, “Each antibody is directly conjugated with a dye to suit the requirements of the Guava instrument,” said Hsu. He mentioned that the three most popular dyes are FITC, PE, and PE-Cy5. “We will label each antibody with two different dyes to optimize the customer’s multiplexing capabilities,” Hsu said.
The antibodies have been validated and are optimized for multiplexing, Hsu added.
Millipore has also developed a cell-based assay that customers can use as a model control system to define their cell events, said Hsu. “This enables customers to do a plug and play — they do not have to validate antibodies or worry about the appropriate market for the cell events of interest.”
“[This agreement] will allow us to start building the company around pharma, primarily, and really expand [its footprint] in the clinical marketplace.”
Millipore and Guava will co-develop their new flow cytometers based, at least in part, on customer feedback from using the kit, said Hsu.
Guava’s machines are small, cheap, and easy to use, and the software is very intuitive, Hsu said. He added that data analysis can be done and files can be opened from anywhere, even using competitors’ software.
Guava’s platform can address 70 percent to 80 percent of flow cytometry needs, according to Hsu. “It does not do cell sorting. The limitations are that we have a single laser for each instrument, so we are limited in the number of colors we can detect.”
He said that the most popular dyes are FITC (green), PE (yellow), and PE-Cy5 (red), and that the instrument also detects PE-Cy7 (near infrared). To detect additional dyes, “the machine would need a second laser. That would make the machine more expensive, as would quantum dot capability,” Hsu said.
He mentioned that customers would like to see flexibility in terms of excitation emission capability, and more laser and detection options. Another limitation is that because it is not a high-end instrument, it does not allow the customer to do high-speed image acquisition.
According to Weiss, the majority of questions asked by scientists begin with the same phrase: ‘What happens in my cells, in terms of protein expression, when they die or differentiate, or are exposed to certain compounds/drugs?’
“We feel that flow cytometry, in that context, is a much more powerful analytical platform than, for example, Western blotting,” Weiss added.
When cells’ phenotypes change, their protein expression is altered, Weiss explained. “These are all questions that can be answered on a cell-by-cell basis using flow cytometry, instead of being limited by Western blotting, where you are getting an average of 10 million cells. You get much more precise data, and a much better understanding of the relationship between changes in phenotype and changes in protein expression.”
“We Needed a Partner”
After acquiring Serologicals and its Chemicon unit in 2006, Millipore obtained expertise in cell culture, stem cells, and antibodies, Hsu said. He pointed out, however, that “these reagents would have a much higher value if we validated them on a certain platform.”
With that in mind, Hsu said, Millipore began looking for a platform vendor. “Flow cytometry is something we do not have, and it complements the Luminex platform and our high-content screening capabilities.”
Although Millipore looked at a number of companies that also produce benchtop flow cytometry platforms, they just “did not click” with Millipore, according to Hsu.
According to Weiss, Millipore chose Guava because its platforms require only a few thousand cells per analysis, which “is ideal for folks who are looking at model systems based on primary cells or embryonic stem cells where there are not millions of cells available on which to do experimentation.”
Guava’s Bruder said his company’s microcapillary flow cytometry platform tends to play in three different markets: academic/basic research, pharmaceutical/biotech, and a clinical version that is used to monitor CD4 cell counts in HIV-positive patients.
“We have kind of had this mission to make cell analysis more accessible to scientists — those who need to do their analysis at the benchtop, or who are looking for ways to find out the answers to more questions about what is happening in the cells they work with,” Bruder told CBA News this week.
“As we have been trying to grow the company, we came to the realization that we needed a partner to help us,” said Bruder. “That is where Millipore comes in.”
Millipore is very customer- and applications-focused, said Bruder. “Guava has kind of grown up as an instrument company, and one of our limitations in the past has been an inability to generate additional applications for our systems.”
The company wanted to find a partner who could help it develop more applications and bring those applications to its customers, he said.
Additionally, Millipore shares Guava’s vision of selling accessible cell analysis, Bruder said. “[Millipore] has a great reputation among cell biologists, and they have a lot of capabilities that they can bring to the table, particularly in terms of distribution.”