Molecular Cytomics and Nalge Nunc have signed an exclusive agreement in which Nalge Nunc will distribute Molecular Cytomics' Optical LiveCell Array high-content analysis tool worldwide, CBA News learned this week.
According to officials from both companies, the two firms had been hammering out a possible partnership since last year, and finally signed an agreement last week. As a result, the Optical LiveCell Array could become a Nunc-branded product by as early as this summer, officials said.
The agreement could help nascent Molecular Cytomics significantly expand the market for its Optical LiveCell Array, as Nalge Nunc's distribution tentacles extend worldwide. Furthermore, Nalge Nunc will provide technical support for the product, and may eventually have a hand in the development of future versions of the high-content screening tool.
"Once we begin selling the Nunc-branded product, we'll have a support lab in the US here in our Rochester facility … for technical support," said Dan Schroen, product manager in the drug-discovery products division of Nalge Nunc. "We don't want to hide at all that this is a partnership between us and Molecular Cytomics. In fact, we think that's a strong selling point because we think their product is very good.
"We are going to use our distribution reach and ability to sell and support products, and perhaps even develop new versions of this," Schroen added. "We have a lot of ability and infrastructure to help next-generation product development for this entire line."
"We have a lot of ability and infrastructure to help next-generation product development for this entire line."
Israel Biran, COO and manager of North American business development for Molecular Cytomics, told CBA News that the company has been marketing and distributing its product primarily out of its Boston office, which employs only a few workers. Molecular Cytomics was spun out of Bar-Ilan University in Israel only a few years ago, and still has some distribution out of that location.
"We started small and slow, but we hope this partnership will really open the market for a much larger customer base," Biran said.
According to Schroen, Nalge Nunc has approximately 40 sales reps in North America who sell products directly to end users. In addition, Nalge Nunc sells products through larger life sciences distributors, such as Fisher and VWR, as well as several second-tier and specialty niche distributors.
"We're also working on increasing our presence with direct sales on the web," Schroen said. "Our vision is that with this product, as well as others, customers will be able to place orders over the internet."
Nalge Nunc also has offices in the UK, Denmark, Japan, Germany, and Latin America, "so we can spread a very broad international net, as well," Schroen added.
The Optical LiveCell Array is Molecular Cytomics' flagship technology. It looks like a standard microscope slide, but embedded in a central sample well are as many as 10,000 individual micron-scale wells, each of which can hold individual live cells or small groups of cells, depending on the model.
When coupled with a standard fluorescence microscope or high-content imaging instrument, and image-analysis software, the array enables researchers to perform highly multiplexed cell-based assays by analyzing individual wells. Molecular Cytomics also sells assay kits for apoptosis and cell surface markers such as CD3, CD4, and CD8.
The distribution agreement will give Nalge Nunc exclusive rights for the slides and the associated kits for research applications, Schroen said. Both Biran and Schroen said that a Nunc-branded version of the Optical LiveCell Array is slated for this summer.
Although the product can be used with any fluorescence microscope, and many image-analysis software packages, Molecular Cytomics has a non-exclusive co-marketing and -development agreement with Molecular Devices in which the companies have developed a drop-in module for MDCC's MetaMorph software that enables turn-key data acquisition and analysis on the Optical LiveCell Array (see CBA News, 12/19/2005).
Customers will be able to experiment with the Optical LiveCell Array regardless of whether they use MetaMorph, however.
"If an academic lab on a shoestring budget just wanted to get an idea of how this works, it could easily do that," Schroen said. "[I]t's compatible with any existing microscope on the market, because it's a standard slide format. If a person with no imager and no software wanted to get an idea of how this works, they could put cells in the thing, let them settle down, put it on their microscope stage, and view the cells."
Then, if researchers wanted to "maximize the potential of the system," Schroen said, they could take the next step and employ a CCD camera-based reader and image-analysis software. Molecular Cytomics recommends Molecular Devices' MetaMorph, but "there are other ones on the market that can do similar things," he said.
MetaMorph is one of the most established image-analysis packages on the market, however, and Nalge Nunc sees the potential value of that, meaning a collaboration between those two firms could also be on the horizon, according to Shcroen.
"The product that is sold through Molecular Devices will be Nunc branded," Schroen said. "I've already met with Molecular Devices, and while we don't have a formal co-marketing document in place, we do have every intention of a collaboration or cooperation with each other."
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])
Nalge Nunc Joins Growing List of Labware Vendors Eyeing Cell Analysis Market
As the high-content cellular analysis market heats up, so does the demand for specialized labware, and Nalge Nunc's deal with Molecular Cytomics may represent Nalge Nunc's biggest foray yet into this arena.
According to Nalge Nunc's Schroen, the company has been involved in HCS primarily through the sale of its optical clear-bottom well plates, which traditionally have been used in high-throughput biochemical screening, but have more recently been used prevalently in HCS.
In addition, Nalge Nunc's Lab-Tek chamber slides are useful for live-cell imaging studies, and have also been exploited in several instances for RNAi-based functional genomics studies using live-cell microarrays. Examples include work from the Sabatini lab at the Whitehead Institute and a joint project between the German Cancer Research Center and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.
Nalge Nunc's competitors are also closely eyeing the field. For example, labware giant Corning has been in discussions with Fisher subsidiary Cellomics to develop a specialized microplate for high-content cell-based assays that would help eliminate the thermal fluctuations that occur in cells in the border wells of typical plates. In addition, Corning is planning to release its Epic label-free biological detection system in the fourth quarter of this year, with an eye toward both biochemical and live-cell assays (see CBA News, 11/28/2005).
In addition, UK-based reagent shop BioStatus has developed a thermoreversible gel that might enable 3D cell culture and high-content cell-based analysis, and claimed in September that it was "close" to coming to a licensing agreement with a large plate manufacturer — though none of the usual suspects such as Corning, Nalge Nunc, or Matrical has admitted interest (see CBA News, 9/26/2005).
The Optical LiveCell Array would be Nalge Nunc's first product specifically designed for high-content screening.
"I think all of these [vendors] are interested in the emerging field of high-content analysis and cell-based assays," Molecular Cytomics' Biran said. "Everyone sees that there is an increasing demand in the market for advanced tools to analyze individual cells. Since our technology makes this concept more affordable — because all you need is a slide and the microscope, and also, it opens the field of non-adherent cells — Nalge Nunc liked it and wanted to be at the leading edge of this field."