Just one week after PerkinElmer made clear its intention to boost its cellular analysis reagent play, the company made its first major move last week by announcing a co-marketing agreement with Invitrogen in the area of ion channel screening.
Specifically, Invitrogen's Voltage Sensor Probes brand of ion channel reagents will be combined with PerkinElmer's CellLux fluorescence cellular screening platform, in order to offer the companies' customers a more complete platform for ion channel screening applications.
The news, if not surprising, follows very closely on the heels of PerkinElmer's new LumiLux instrumentation launch and pledge to beef up its reagent portfolio at the Society for Biomolecular Sciences conference held two weeks ago in Geneva, Switzerland (see CBA News, 9/19/2005).
At that show, Deb Brusini, PerkinElmer's drug discovery business unit leader, told CBA News that the company would be looking to add or develop reagents such as advanced photoproteins to better enable CellLux and LumiLux, optimized cell lines to enable "mix-and-measure"-type assays on those instruments, and reagents for conducting FRAP and FRET analysis on its other screening instrumentation platforms — and even named Invitrogen as an attractive potential partner in this area.
"I really think that in some ways, this agreement benefits PerkinElmer a lot more than Invitrogen. If PerkinElmer can sell even two more of these platforms, they'll get more out of it than Invitrogen."
Invitrogen's VSPs, which are based on fluorescence resonance energy transfer, are ideal for use with PerkinElmer's CellLux fluorescence cellular screening platform. The platform has been on the market for a few years, but has not made a significant dent in the firm ion-channel screening market share Molecular Devices holds with its FLIPR line of instruments.
Interestingly, the VSPs, because they are fluorescent-based, are not compatible with PerkinElmer's recently launched LumiLux luminescent detection instrument. Brusini had told CBA News that PerkinElmer thinks LumiLux may eventually be better than fluorescence-based assays for ion channel screening because luminescence doesn't have the imaging artifacts of fluorescence and may be more sensitive. PerkinElmer is currently either developing or eyeing for purchase ideal reagents for this platform.
Regardless, Molecular Devices has warmed researchers up to fluorescence-based calcium screening with FLIPR, so PerkinElmer's deal with Invitrogen may allow PerkinElmer to gain better overall name recognition in cell-based screening, which could then serve as a springboard for market penetration with LumiLux.
"I've never used [PerkinElmer's] equipment, and FLIPR is probably the industry standard, so I would say that this would give PerkinElmer more visibility and help to promote their instrument," said David Solow-Cordero, associate director of the High-Throughput Bioscience Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine, which uses several Molecular Devices instrument platforms. "The instruments work pretty differently, but the end result you get is that you can run the same assays."
"I really think that in some ways, this agreement benefits PerkinElmer a lot more than Invitrogen," Solow-Cordero added. "Obviously for Invitrogen it's more money in the bank, but if PerkinElmer can sell even two more of these platforms, they'll get more out of it than Invitrogen."
Because Molecular Devices has its own in-house reagents to package with its screening instrumentation, it may not perceive a need to forge a co-marketing agreement with someone like Invitrogen. On the other hand, for PerkinElmer, which is not known for its reagent portfolio, this deal was likely the fastest way for it to make more immediate impact in the ion channel screening market.
It is unclear whether Invitrogen would be interested in exploring similar co-marketing agreements with Molecular Devices; Invitrogen officials could not be reached for comment before press time.
In any case, FLIPR is not really compatible with Invitrogen's VSPs, which require a dual-wavelength instrumentation platform, according to Martin Valler, group leader for high-throughput screening at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma in Germany, who routinely uses FLIPR for calcium channel assays.
"Invitrogen a few years back claimed that the Voltage Sensor Probes could be used [on FLIPR], as well as a range of single-wavelength machines, such as normal spectrophotometers," Valler said. "But that's not really true. The evidence just wasn't convincing.
"So this dual-wavelength machine, [the CellLux], will provide better sensitivity, and also the speed and ability to work with a full plate of samples simultaneously, so I think it's a good combination," Valler added.
Valler also said that although one can purchase fluorescent reagents from other companies like Invitrogen for use on FLIPR, the calcium-sensitive and voltage-sensitive dye kits that Molecular Devices sells with FLIPR "are fundamentally better" and "more sensitive" than alternatives.
According to Jennifer McKie, Molecular Devices' product manager for FLIPR, the Invitrogen VSPs can now be used on FLIPR Tetra, the latest version in the FLIPR line of instruments. This is because Molecular Devices added dual-wavelength capabilities to FLIPR Tetra earlier this year, McKie said.
"Those dyes can be run on a wide variety of instruments," McKie said. "It's a membrane potential dye, and it's just like our membrane potential dye, which can be run on [PerkinElmer's] instruments, as well. These are widely used across the market on different instrumentation."
McKie added that Molecular Devices offers its membrane potential dyes to customers as an option with FLIPR, but does not necessarily package them together.
Molecular Devices may also be exploring other partnerships of its own. One particular example is Italian drug-discovery firm Axxam, which markets a calcium-sensitive photoprotein called Photina that it claims is brighter and more stable than the "gold standard" aequorin luminescent reagent. Although Molecular Devices and Axxam don't have an official agreement, the companies have in the past worked together closely to validate Axxam's reagents on FLIPR (see CBA News, 2/15/2005).
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])