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Nalge Nunc to Re-Brand BioCrystal's Cell Culture Device as Part of Growing Specialty Product Play

Nalge Nunc International this week said that BioCrystal has granted it global distribution rights to its OptiCell cell-culture technology and to all future related new products.
The agreement, which enables Nunc to re-brand the technology, greatly expands the market for OptiCell due to Nalge’s comparatively larger sales and marketing force, according to a Nalge Nunc spokesperson. The deal also grants Nalge Nunc access to a product that it believes will fill a plethora of niche applications in cell culture and analysis.
OptiCell also adds to a growing number of specialty products, such as Molecular Cytomics’ Optical LiveCell Array, that Nalge Nunc has brought on board to help increase its presence in the biomedical research space while ensuring the company remains true to its philosophy of providing “unique” surfaces for cell growth, Dennis Gorlick, Nalge Nunc’s director of marketing, told CBA News this week (see CBA News, 5/5/2006).

“Nunc has created unique surfaces for cell growth in the past, and [these products] expand and broaden our reach and contact with customers in slightly different areas of drug discovery, high-content screening, and cell growth – and that’s a direction that we’ll keep moving in.”

“The reason that we are interested in bringing on more products like this is that they’re a little outside the norm,” Gorlic said. “Nunc has created unique surfaces for cell growth in the past, and [these products] expand and broaden our reach and contact with customers in slightly different areas of drug discovery, high-content screening, and cell growth – and that’s a direction that we’ll keep moving in.
“We’re working more closely with scientists at companies who have very good ideas but [who] aren’t very good at getting those ideas out [into] the market and promoting them,” he added.
The OptiCell device “consists of gas-permeable polymer membranes that provide a cell culture growth surface area enclosed within a sealed environment,” Nalge Nunc said. “It accommodates adherent or non-adherent cells and enables visual access to living cells using standard imaging equipment.” (See accompanying image below)
Heidi McIntosh, Nalge Nunc’s product manager for OptiCell, this week told CBA News that Nalge Nunc and BioCrystal had been discussing the deal since 2003. Since that time, BioCrystal had already been distributing the product in several countries through Nalge Nunc affiliates, but the companies seriously revisited the idea of Nalge Nunc re-branding the product as its own this year after it became clearer which application areas were most promising for the product.
“Nalge Nunc is now the sole distributor of the product,” McIntosh said. “We sell through our own distribution channels, so we will kind of be like [BioCrystal’s] conduit to the market, and we have worldwide exclusive rights to it.”
She also said that Nalge Nunc is ramping up its online commercial catalog capabilities, and customers will soon be able to buy products such as OptiCell directly online, “or you can buy it through standard distribution networks,” she said. “But it will be a Nunc-branded product.”
McIntosh said that Nalge Nunc brought the product aboard because of several unique capabilities that will allow the company to sell the product into at least six specific application areas, including live cell transportation; hybridoma antibody production; biomagnetic cell separation; cell storage, freezing, and thawing; cell imaging and staining; and transfections.
“It is a microtiter plate size so it lends itself to automation,” McIntosh said. “It has great growth characteristics, because the cells grow right on the surface of the plastic film, which is exposed to the environment.”


Furthermore, the device reduces media consumption, McIntosh said. For instance, she said, a 75 cm2 flask takes about 20 mL of media to grow cells properly; while the OptiCell provides about 100 cm2 of growth space but only requires about 10 mL of media.
Other advantages of the tool include the ability to “maximize your incubator space because it has such a low profile,” McIntosh said. “It also has two access ports that are self-sealing, and when you use a syringe with a blunt-tipped needle, it’s a zero-fluid pathway, and basically a closed system.”
Lastly, the optically clear and extremely thin film allows cells to be imaged directly in the device and with any kind of microscope — something that is not possible with traditional cell culture flasks. “You can also fix the cells, cut the film out, cut it into pieces, and then do immunohistochemistry on them,” McIntosh said.
Undoubtedly the major hurdle for OptiCell as an alternative to traditional cell culture devices is its price. McIntosh said that customers can use it as a standard cell culture device, but “it’s a little pricier than a flask, so it can be a shock.” A typical 75 cm2 T-flask costs about $2.80, while the OptiCell runs around $5, she said.
“You do have some savings, though,” she added. “If you break down growth surface, the amount of media, the cost of media and additives, and even throw in pipettes and syringe filters, it does work out to be cheaper per square centimeter of growth area.”
Despite this, McIntosh said she does not see OptiCell replacing traditional cell culture flasks in the laboratory – “that’s a high standard to go after,” she said. Rather, the company will continue to promote OptiCell as a niche product for the aforementioned specific applications.
Nalge Nunc’s biggest-selling products to the life sciences market traditionally have been related to tissue culture and some cell culture. But recently the company has been attempting to expand its footprint by providing more specialized products for niche applications.
A recent example of this is the company’s deal with Molecular Cytomics, which CBA News reported in May (see CBA News, 5/5/2006).
“That product was our first solely dedicated to high-content screening,” Nalge Nunc’s Gorlick said. “We certainly have some microtiter plates and microwell plates that can be used for high-content, but that was more of a breakthrough product, since other people offer microwell plates, as well.”

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