When image informatics company Scimagix announced two weeks ago that it had installed its data-management platform for two unidentified pharmaceutical customers using GE Healthcare’s IN Cell 3000 high-content plate reader, it raised a few eyebrows.
After all, it was only a few months ago that Cellomics, Scimagix’s major competitor in HCS image management, said that it had signed an agreement with GE Healthcare to design and market an interface for mining, interpreting, and storing images and data generated by the IN Cell Analyzer series of instruments using Cellomics’ high-content informatics software.
Two weeks ago, at the Society for Biomolecular Screening’s annual conference in Orlando, Fla., several sources who wished to remain anonymous told Inside Bioassays that GE Healthcare was among those surprised by the announcement, and did not approve the use of its name in Scimagix’ press release.
Last week, GE Healthcare clarified the relationship — or lack thereof — between it and the two image informatics providers.
“GE Healthcare and Cellomics recently announced a software and development agreement … [in which] Cellomics and GE Healthcare are collaborating to develop and market an interface that permits high-content screening analysis using the IN Cell Analyzer from GE Healthcare and Cellomics’ high-content informatics platform,” John Sutton, vice president of product management within GE Healthcare’s biosciences division, wrote in an email to Inside Bioassays.
“Specifically, Cellomics will develop and sell software that allows images from the IN Cell Analyzer 3000 and the IN Cell Analyzer 1000 to be extracted and interrogated by Cellomics software,” Morrison continued. “GE Healthcare does not have any current commercial or development relationship with Scimagix.”
At first glance, it may have seemed that Scimagix was guilty of name-dropping to give itself a competitive edge on the heels of the recent launch of CellMine HCS, its newest image management application. However, according to Michael Cosgrove, marketing director at Scimagix, the announcement was carefully worded to state a fact — that there are IN Cell Analyzer customers now using CellMine — without specifically stating that there was an official agreement between the two.
“One of the reasons we phrased the press release as we did is that we do not have an agreement with GE Healthcare, as such,” Cosgrove told Inside Bioassays last week. “We have agreements with the customers, and all we can say at the moment is that they are large pharmaceutical customers, and it [was] difficult to get the approval in time for the press release to be able to name them.”
Cosgrove still was not at liberty to identify the customers last week, but did provide more details about the nature of the deals. “We’re working with two customers who have expressed a preference and have purchased our system for integrating data from their IN Cell 3000 systems that they already have, and are making CellMine the centralized repository for data coming from those systems,” Cosgrove said. “We have also received a purchase agreement from another large pharma company just about a week before [SBS] to do exactly the same thing for the IN Cell 1000.”
Cellomics and Scimagix are competitors in only one area of high-content screening: storing and mining the scads of cellular images that are generated over the course of a screening campaign — sometimes as many as 300,000 per day.
Cellomics offers a full slate of high-content screening products, including reagents, plate scanners (the ArrayScan and KineticScan), and image analysis software. The company also offers the Cellomics Store image database, and the vHCS Discovery Toolbox — a suite of tools to manage, analyze, and visualize data from any licensed HCS reader.
And Cellomics has been very busy lately building its competitive edge by aligning itself with key industry and academic partners related to high-content screening informatics. Besides the GE Healthcare agreement, Cellomics also recently signed an agreement with IBM to develop a storage and management solution for its high-content screening platform (see Inside Bioassays, 8/17/2004). And late last year, Cellomics inked a deal with EMC to make the ArrayScan compatible with EMC’s Centera content addressed storage device (see Inside Bioassays, 4/27/2004).
Scimagix doesn’t offer a full suite of high-content screening products, but its CellMine informatics platform is directly competitive with Cellomics’ image management and data mining applications. “We are not competing in the image analysis space,” Cosgrove said. “What we would like to do is remain as agnostic in this area as we can, and provide a centralized repository and mining capability for people who are using a wide variety of cellular imaging systems.”
When asked if the unnamed IN Cell customers might, in fact, be using Cellomics’ image-analysis software to perform high-content screening, Cosgrove confirmed such a possibility. “There was clearly a situation in which we were in a competitive position with the offering from Cellomics/GE, and we’re very pleased that the companies decided to choose us,” he said.
Cosgrove added that the company would continue to explore similar customers. “There are obviously other opportunities we’re pursuing relating to the [IN Cell], and although at this point I’m not at liberty to name names, we are working closely with some of the other high-content cellular screening companies, as well,” he said. “So this is a position where we haven’t established a formal relationship with GE, but I am hopeful that we’ll be able to establish a more formal relationship with some of the other vendors within the cellular HCS screening space.”
Scimagix does have one such formal relationship in place, with Molecular Devices. This agreement existed prior to the launch of CellMine, and paired Scimagix’s flagship SIMS (Scientific Image Management System) image informatics platform with MD’s Discovery-1 instrument.
Ironically, despite the official relationship, Scimagix does not currently have a customer using the Discovery-1 with Scimagix’s informatics package. “We have done development on that, and we had a customer, but they are unfortunately no longer in business,” Cosgrove said. “We have the support available, but we no longer have a customer that I can talk about right now.” Despite this, the companies have validated the compatibility of the platforms, and Scimagix was showing data from the Discovery-1 in a poster presentation at SBS.
“We are interested in establishing standards within the entire arena of HCS,” Cosgrove said. “It would obviously make our lives easier, and certainly our customers would appreciate it, but I don’t know if that’s something the industry’s ready for just yet.”