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PerkinElmer Says Screening Techs Are 'Acquisition Priorities,' Plans to Keep Growing Cell-Based Play

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Recognizing the recent increased uptake of cell-based assays in drug discovery, a PerkinElmer official this week said the company has made cellular screening technologies and related consumables and reagents “acquisition priorities,” and that it will continue to build out its cell-based screening platforms, particularly in the areas of GPCRs and kinases.
 
In addition, another company executive last week said that the firm, which doesn’t currently offer a platform for high-content, image-based screening, is nonetheless keeping a close eye on the space, and “evaluating possibilities.”
 
In a presentation at UBS’ annual Global Life Sciences conference held this week in New York, Greg Summe, PerkinElmer’s chairman and CEO, said that PerkinElmer has “been a leader in high-throughput biochemical screening technology for a while,” but that industry is “increasingly moving into cellular assays.”
 
Summe also said that reagents and other consumables and cellular screening technologies are two of several “acquisition priorities” for the company in the coming months. Other priorities include technologies for neonatal, prenatal, and maternal health; medical imaging; and drug-discovery services.
 
Later, in an investor breakout session, Summe added that “our initiatives will be based around instrumentation, reagents, and high-throughput and high-content screening.”
 
In particular, he said that know-how within the analytical part of PerkinElmer’s Life and Analytical Sciences division would be a good complement for high-content screening technologies because “one of the major challenges in this area is the massive amount of data you get.”
 
PerkinElmer has been making similar overtures since at least last year, when Deb Brusini, business unit leader for drug discovery within PerkinElmer Life and Analytical Sciences, told CBA News at 2005’s Society for Biomolecular Sciences meeting that increasing the company’s cell-based assay play was a major initiative, and that it would probably do so via acquisition (see CBA News, 9/19/2005).

 
Brusini also said at the time that high-content screening reagents, and not necessarily instrumentation, would top the company’s list in that area.
 
Last week at the annual SBS conference in Seattle, PerkinElmer introduced several new products for high-throughput cell-based drug screening, marking the fulfillment of some of those initiatives, Richard Eglen, PerkinElmer’s vice president and general manager, told CBA News at the meeting.
 
These products included the Janus Cellular Workstation, a fully automated liquid handling platform designed for cell-based assays; the LANCE Ultra homogenous time-resolved fluorescence assay for more sensitive TR-FRET assays; and a new panel of AlphaScreen SureFire assay kits for measuring kinase activity in homogenous cell lysates.
 
The AlphaScreen SureFire assays combine PerkinElmer’s AlphaScreen technology with TGR Biosciences’ SureFire kinase assay kits. PerkinElmer also announced an expansion of its long-term supply and co-marketing agreement with TGR for the product.
 
“LANCE Ultra has a modified red-shifted fluorophore that gives us high sensitivity in a LANCE assay,” Eglen said. “That’s going to take us in the direction of kinase assays, but also for using LANCE as a wider platform for detecting things like cyclic AMP and other analytes.
 
“In addition to that, we launched a modification of AlphaScreen where we can use it to measure analytes like cytokines released from cells – so it’s like a homogeneous ELISA,” Eglen added. “We also have a collaboration with TGR Biosciences, which enables us to measure pathway activation of phosphoproteins induced by kinases, so it gets PerkinElmer more into the area of cell-based kinase assays.”
 
All of these technologies support GPCR and kinase screening, and reflect pharma’s growing interest in screening for small molecules that affect these cellular targets.
 
“Obviously GPCRs and kinases are 70 percent of the drug-discovery market, and they’ll remain so,” Eglen said. “One of the major strategies in both areas has been to fill out the different detection modes that you can do with these.”
 
Ion channels and, increasingly, phosphatases fill out the bulk of remaining popular cellular targets for drug discovery, but PerkinElmer has not focused much on these areas, Eglen said.
 
Conspicuously absent from PerkinElmer’s lineup of reagents and instrumentation are imaging technologies for high-content cell-based assays. The company’s newest products join a slew of other instrumentation and reagents for cell-based assays, but most of these build off of the company’s experience in the area of high-throughput biochemical screening.
 
“I think HCS is clearly now a mature technology that has been adopted by pharma, and certainly by secondary screening groups and some lead optimization groups,” Eglen said. “I think PerkinElmer, like most companies, is looking at that space very carefully and evaluating the possibilities,” he added, echoing Summe’s comments at the UBS conference.
 

“I think PerkinElmer, like most companies, is looking at [the HCS] space very carefully and evaluating the possibilities.”

It remains to be seen if and how PerkinElmer might enter the HCS market. Many of the independent HCS vendors have been already snatched up by competitors such as GE Healthcare, Molecular Devices, BD Biosciences, and Fisher Bioscience. PerkinElmer’s strong suit is instrumentation design, and there are several independent high-content HCS software and reagent vendors in the marketplace, so pulling together the appropriate pieces is not impossible.
 
Its current major imaging platform is the ULTRAView, a multiple-laser, Nipkow disk-enabled confocal microscope that allows multiplexed fluorescence imaging of live or fixed cells on slides. However, it is sold more as a basic research instrument than a screening tool due primarily to the limited automation and non-well plate format.
 
However, PerkinElmer hasn’t released news regarding the ULTRAView since at least 2004, despite last year saying that it soon expected to acquire or develop optimized reagents for conducting FRAP and FRET analyses on the confocal reader.
 
Sharon Goodkowsky, a marketing communications manager for PerkinElmer who is responsible for automation, liquid handling, and live-cell imaging products, told CBA News that “there certainly is an investment and expansion of our imaging capabilities, and in moving into that high-content space.” Goodkowsky said that the company introduced a new FRAP/FLIP accessory for Ultraview at a Royal Microscopy Society meeting in the UK held two weeks ago.
 
“We’ll also be at the [Society for] Neuroscience meeting, and have some interesting things to talk about there,” she added. “It is an area that is not being left as is; we are actively looking at growing it. There are just some things we can’t talk about yet.”
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