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Roche Enters CBA Platform Market Through Biosensor Alliance With Acea

Roche Applied Sciences and Acea Biosciences plan to co-develop, supply, and distribute Acea’s microelectronic biosensor technology, the companies said this week.
Under the terms of the agreement, Roche will exclusively market systems for real-time cellular analysis based on Acea’s impedance-based platform, thus positioning the Swiss giant to compete against PE, GE Healthcare, and Thermo Fisher, which already have strong cellular-analysis product lines.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
To date, Roche has been fairly quiet about its plans for the cell-based assay market, though the firm hinted earlier this year that it plans to get more involved in the space (see CBA News, 3/7/07).
Roche Applied Sciences head Manfred Baier told CBA News this week via e-mail that the company views cellular analysis as an attractive field because results from an independent study showed that the market for cell-analysis products reached around $1.18 billion in 2006 and is growing at approximately 8 percent per year.
Roche expanded its product portfolio in DNA/RNA analysis with the acquisitions of 454 Life Sciences in February and NimbleGen six months later. Baier said that the Acea technology will help to strengthen and extend its portfolio in cellular analysis, a market in which it has already established a toehold in reagent-based assays.
According to the Roche Applied Sciences website, the company sells reagents and assay kits to study apoptosis, cytotoxicity, and cellular proliferation and viability.
Roche is “convinced that Acea’s platform for cell based assays will become a benchmark item for cell biology and molecular biology labs, like 454 Life Sciences’ sequencing technology [is] in genome research,” Baier wrote.

“The information content is very rich; it shows high sensitivity and reproducibility in monitoring an entire cell population in a culture well, and potential applications of the technology are broad.”

For Acea, the deal greatly expands the marketing reach of its cell-based assay platforms.
“We have had products on the market since 2003,” said Acea CEO James O’Connell. “The whole idea of working with a company like Roche, which has a global reach, is that they have a very large and experienced sales force and do first-class marketing.”
He went on to say that, “We want to have a real strategic partnership with Roche, and not just a one-off distribution agreement.”
There may be ways in which Acea's cell-based assays can be integrated early on with techniques such as gene expression, or with technologies such as those manufactured by 454 and NimbleGen, said O’Connell. He went on to say that the advantage of partnering with a large company like Roche is that those kinds of things are possible.
“There may be ways to creatively combine technologies to really help our customers, and that’s what we want to do.”
According to Baier, Acea’s RT-CES and RT-CIM technology have several advantages over conventional cell-based approaches. For one, they are label-free and do not depend on manipulated cells, and allow researchers to measure kinetics and live-cell quality control in real-time.
“The information content is very rich; it shows high sensitivity and reproducibility in monitoring an entire cell population in a culture well, and potential applications of the technology are broad.”
Roche and Acea will initially refine the current Acea instrumentation, according to Baier. Until the launch of this new generation technology, Acea will remain responsible for marketing its products.

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