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News From ASCB: Cellix, Luminex, Genospectra

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Cellix Comes to the US

Irish startup Cellix had its first North American road show to promote Structor and Mirus, its dual microfluidics platform for cell-based assays.

The company, which was formed from a collaboration between various departments at Trinity College Dublin, is currently in the process of raising venture capital while attempting to sell Structor for a variety of cellular assays, but especially those dealing with immune or blood cells.

In August, Inside Bioassays reported that the microfluidics platform would be available early next year (see Inside Bioassays, 8/10/2004). Last week, chief technology officer Siobhan Mitchell said that the platform is nearing the market as anticipated, and may actually be ready for official launch at Screening Europe 2005, to be held Feb. 14-16 in Geneva — although this is not yet finalized.

But for now, Mitchell said, the company has successfully installed test platforms at several academic research labs in addition to those reported in June, and was planning on installing more in January. Although Mitchell was not at liberty to name the early-access users, she said Cellix is currently gathering feedback from them, which it will use to put important finishing touches on the product.

Mitchell said that the company is still seeking private investors, a situation that has not changed since June. Since its inception a little over two years ago, Cellix has been funded by Enterprise Ireland, a Dublin-based government agency.

The key feature of Structor that makes it ideal for such assays is the miniature channel network that mimics the human capillary network. The transparent, plastic chip has eight separate channels, each of which holds fluid volumes ranging from one microliter to 15 microliters. The chip is marketed with Mirus, the firm’s microfluidics pumping system for delivering biomaterials into the chip.

The channels of the chip can be coated with antibodies or specific cells of interest, and researchers would subsequently inject cell suspensions and analyze the cells’ interactions under continuous flow to the antibody- or cell-coated microcapillary walls.

Luminex and Genospectra Partner on Bead-Based Gene Expression Assays

Luminex and Genospectra have penned a partnership designed to better enable researchers to detect and quantify mRNA in cells, company officials told Inside Bioassays at ASCB.

The agreement, which has not yet been announced, will see Genospectra apply Luminex’ bead-based fluorescence-detection system to its QuantiGene cell-based gene expression-profiling assays, Grant Gibson, director of technical marketing for Luminex.

Gibson said the collaboration represents “the first application of Luminex’ technology for quantitative gene-expression” applications.

QuanitGene is based on branched DNA technology, in which a molecular probe has many branches of DNA on one end, and an oligonucleotide probe molecule on the other end that binds a specific target. For QuantiGene, the target is typically mRNA in fresh cell lysate or tissue samples.

The branched DNA is currently detected with a chemiluminescent probe, which allows for sensitive detection of minute quantities of RNA without the need to perform PCR.

In combination with Luminex’ platform, Gibson said, the branched DNA would be detected using multi-colored Luminex beads that are subsequently read on the company’s Luminex 100 instrument, which is expected to enable highly multiplexed assays and sensitive detection capabilities.

Gibson characterized the relationship as similar to Luminex’ other agreements. “We typically don’t sell instruments directly to customers, but instead partner with specific application providers that have validated the platform with their technology,” he said.

Luminex will co-market the product with Genospectra, and will receive royalty fees stemming from sales of the combined platform, Gibson said.

The agreement caps a busy year for Genospectra that saw the Fremont, Calif.-based biotech partner with RNAi firm Dharmacon (see Inside Bioassays, 8/3/2004); raise $16.4 million in a series C financing round (see Inside Bioassays, 9/21/2004); and secure intellectual property related to fluorescent state-responsive dyes for live-cell assays (see Inside Bioassays, 10/26/2004).

— BB

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