Having featured multimode light detection technology as part of its screening systems for several years, Molecular Devices has finally collected the necessary IP to protect particular methods surrounding the technology.
Late last month, the company was awarded US Patent No. 6,825,921, entitled “Multi-mode light detection system.” According to Todd French, Molecular Devices’ director of research, the methods described in the patent pertain to the company’s Analyst line of screening systems, which includes the analyst GT, HT, and AD products.
The Analyst products are among Molecular Devices’ biggest sellers. While a few of the instruments are installed at academic and government research laboratories — particularly the more modest AD model — most of the instruments are used as high-throughput screening tools at industrial drug-discovery outfits, French said.
Similar instruments from competitors such as PerkinElmer, Beckman Coulter, Tecan, and Evotec have infiltrated the drug-discovery market, making even the smallest competitive advantage significant.
Analyst’s selling point has always been its ability to support several modes of detection, including fluorescence intensity, fluorescence polarization, time-resolved fluorescence resonance energy transfer, luminescence, and absorbance.
French said that the Analyst is a point-reader technology, and is typically used to read assays in 96-, 384-, or 1,536 (GT model only)-well plates. Although the instruments are typically used for biochemical assays, they are also sometimes used for cell-based assays, French said.
“This is actually a point-reader platform,” French said. “This particular reader basically focuses one cone of light into the well, and measures the emission from that focal point.”
While the basic hardware underlying the platform has long been patent-protected, the method by which each of these assay types can be run simultaneously has not.
“This patent has been pending for a while,” French said. “The technology has been implemented in our commercial instruments for three or four years. We have patents that come out all the time, and some of them are more current, but it takes a long time for some to actually make it through. Sometimes it’s hard to judge [the timing].”
At the core of the most recent patent is a way for users of Molecular Devices’ multimode detection instruments to conduct one type of assay more easily in the context of another. “This [latest patent] is definitely more of a software patent, or a methods patent,” French said. “It represents a method for performing multiple detection modes in a string.
“One of the aspects would be to run several assays in a row,” French added. “But a real key to the patent is the idea of being able to conduct quality control on an assay.”
As an example, French said that a researcher might want to monitor the fluorescence intensity of a well in which a fluorescence polarization assay is also being conducted. If the detected intensity was far off expected values, then a researcher would know to discount any information gained from the polarization assay, thus saving time and effort.
“Or you can measure the absorbance of an assay while you’re measuring a fluorescence intensity assay,” French said. “And if it’s too highly scattering or too highly absorbing, you know that there is something wrong with that well.”
With the IP for this method secured, French said that Molecular Devices is now considering implementing the same methods for conducting and comparing multiple assays in its other instruments, including its line of multimode detection instruments — the SpectraMax series of bench-top spectrofluorometers and spectrophotometers.
And although there are no plans yet to employ a similar technology in Discovery-1 or ImageXpress, Molecular Devices’ high-content image-based screening systems, French said that “the technology is certainly applicable.”