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Molecular Devices Unveils New High-Content Imaging Software in Bid to Revive Limp Sales

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SAN DIEGO – Molecular Devices this week launched new high-content image and data analysis software for its ImageXpress cellular imaging product line in a bid to revive recent lackluster imaging sales and to offer a more complete high-content imaging product line to customers.
 
The product launch is the first of several promised recently by President and CEO Joseph Keegan in an attempt to assuage jittery investors after the firm posted lackluster third-quarter revenues and offered a tempered Q4 outlook.
 
The new products are also an attempt by Molecular Devices to offer a soup-to-nuts package, or “total imaging solution,” as the company calls it, for high-content imaging and data analysis – a package currently matched in the industry only by Thermo Fisher business unit Cellomics.
 
Molecular Devices unveiled the new software products at the American Society for Cell Biology annual meeting held here this week. The products include the MetaXpress 2.0 image-analysis software and AcuityXpress 2.0 data-analysis software, both of which are tailored for use with Molecular Devices’ ImageXpress Micro wide-field benchtop imager and ImageXpress Ultra confocal imager.
 
Shawn Handran, Molecular Devices’ director of imaging, demonstrated the new software at ASCB. MetaXpress 2.0, like its v1.0 predecessor, is based on MetaMorph, Molecular Devices’ widely used and flagship research imaging software, Handran told CBA News.
 
One improvement to MetaXpress is a greater level of multiplexing enabled by multiple application modules working simultaneously on data sets from the same images. But the major upgrade to MetaXpress is a feature called adaptive acquisition, Handran said.
 
In a statement, Molecular Devices described this feature as a “computational algorithm to analyze cell number during sample acquisition and dramatically increase the success of collecting valid data within every microplate well.” Handran told CBA News that this improvement allowed the software to make “on-the-fly” adjustments while acquiring data.
 
“This streamlines analysis because it doesn’t necessarily acquire way more images than you need,” a common problem in high-content screening, Handran said.
 
AcuityXpress 2.0 is Molecular Devices’ newest product for high-content data analysis. Although several software and informatics firms offer independent products for such analyses, the only full HCS vendor Molecular Devices competes with in this space is Cellomics.
 
Handran said that many HCS users typically do their image analysis with software provided by the HCS vendor or a third party, after which they export the data into a program such as Excel and analyze it with Spotfire or another similar data-analysis software package.
 
“The problem with this routine is that it is one-directional – you only have forward information flow,” Handran said.
 
Molecular Devices has attempted to solve this by adapting proven software from its microarray data-analysis products. Handran said this software has a legacy dating back to when it was sold by Axon, which Molecular Devices acquired in 2004.
 
The AcuityXpress 2.0 software features hierarchical and non-hierarchical clustering and principal components analysis, statistical measures, and curve-fitting tools. Handran said, however, that the most important new feature is a module called MDC Earth, a data-analysis tool similar to Google’s satellite-imaging map browser, Google Earth.
 
Basically, this tool allows a user to zoom in and out from individual features in specific cellular images to a “global” view of all the cell and well images in a particular image set. In addition, it allows users to simply compare and contrast various image and data features and create detailed statistical analyses of said data using a relatively intuitive interface.
 
“This allows you to drill down to more detailed data from a global view,” Handran said. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Your drug response may be the needle, but how do you get that information?”
 
Handran said that a lot of Molecular Devices’ customers didn’t have the tools to do this before,” and as such, AcuityXpress may open up a new market opportunity for Molecular Devices.
 
Turning Around the Top Line
 
“New market opportunities” are just what Molecular Devices is looking for following recent underwhelming financial results. The company’s revenues have fallen short of expectations for two straight quarters, and Molecular Devices reduced its outlook for the fourth quarter as well.
 

A feature of one of the new software releases “allows you to drill down to more detailed data from a global view. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Your drug response may be the needle, but how do you get that information?”

At UBS’ September investor conference, Molecular Devices’ Keegan, addressing the company’s Q3 results, said that it didn’t want to assign blame to any one product line. However, in the previous quarter the company cited imaging as a weakness (see CBA News, 9/29/2006 and 7/21/2006).
 
Keegan also said at the time that the company planned on introducing new products in every category late this year and next year, none of which would be considered “breakthrough,” but all of which were expected to boost revenues.
 
Handran this week told CBA News that the new ImageXpress software was indeed the first of a few new imaging products, with the next slated to be unveiled at Cambridge Healthtech Institute’s upcoming High-Content Analysis conference in January 2007. Handran said that it was too early to reveal the nature of this product, but that it would fall in line with the company’s strategy of providing a total imaging solution.
 
“We are the only company in a position to do something like this,” Handran said. “We are not making improvements and upgrades for the sake of coming out with something new. This is what customers are asking us for.
 
“If you just have a microscope in a box, you’re essentially shoehorning a solution around technology that hasn’t changed much in the past century,” Handran said. “You’re not optimizing it for drug-discovery assays or specific applications. Speed-wise, we’re all operating at the same level,” he said. “You can acquire all the images you want, but if they’re just sitting in your inbox, it’s not going to do you any good.”

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