Biotech upstarts Vitra Bioscience and BioImage are expected to make the most noise at Cambridge Healthtech Institute’s High-Content Analysis conference held in San Francisco this week.
The 2-year-old conference is the first US-based trade show to focus exclusively on the emerging high-content screening market. For that reason, companies such as Vitra and BioImage will be using the show as a forum to announce major news surrounding their high-content screening technologies.
In Vitra’s case, this week will mark a moment investors of the Mountain View, Calif.-based biotech have long been waiting for: the official commercialization of CellCard, the company’s system for conducting highly multiplexed cell-based assays in high-content drug screening, marked by shipment of the full platform to an undisclosed “large pharmaceutical customer working in the area of cancer,” Andrew Whitely, Vitra’s CEO told Inside Bioassays last week.
“The CellCard system is a turn-key solution that allows pharmaceutical companies to look at both potency and selectivity data together,” Whitely said. “We ship a complete [system] that includes the CellCards themselves, which is a consumable portion; the dispensing device, which allows you to manipulate the cells; and, in addition, the reading device and a very comprehensive and sophisticated software suite that runs experiments from design all the way through to data analysis.”
Last year, Vitra made CellCard available to several advance customers at pharmaceutical companies on an “evaluation-for-purchase” basis only. As Inside Bioassays reported in November, one of those customers was Bristol-Myers Squibb, which presented data from CellCard in October at IBC’s Assays and Cellular Targets meeting in San Diego (See Inside Bioassays, 11/2/2004)
At ACT, BMS senior research investigator Taosheng Chen said that data from a variety of multiplexed assays correlated “very well” with data obtained using similar single-plex assays.
Vitra had been waiting for the appropriate feedback from at least one additional of its advance customers before commencing with full commercialization, and Whitely said that the company has now received the positive feedback it had been hoping for.
“This is all a really important step for us in validating the value proposition that the CellCard system was in its assessment mode with this particular pharmaceutical company,” Whitely said. “This validation is really critical for us.”
Although Whitely declined to name this CellCard customer, he said that Vitra expected it to provide validation of the product over the coming year by presenting data obtained with CellCard at conferences and trade shows.
The new developments at Vitra don’t end there, however. Last week, Whitely also indicated that the company will be making available a nuclear translocation application for CellCard in addition to the assays already available on the system.
“We’ve developed a unique algorithm and application that looks at nuclear translocation,” Whitely said. “This is an improved way of looking at this type of intracellular signaling and translocation event that’s more rapid than current methods.
“[Our technique] does not use a segmentation methodology, and this very rapid mechanism allows us to scale the resolution that the algorithm can be used at,” he added. “This allows the promise of performing multiplexed nuclear translocation applications in the future.”
Another company dealing in cellular translocation assays that will be sharing news at HCS is Danish firm BioImage.
A self-described drug-discovery firm, BioImage also generates revenue via its Redistribution cell-based fluorescence assays, in which protein targets are fused with GFP in order to follow their cellular translocation for drug-screening purposes.
The Redistribution assays have been a cash cow for BioImage, as the firm has licensed the technology out to several large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies over the past few years.
Len Pagliaro, BioImage’s vice president of business development, last week told Inside Bioassays that BioImage has entered into another licensing agreement with a “top-10 pharma company,” and will officially announce the agreement this week.
Although he declined to identify the new partner, the list of possible candidates is shrinking, as BioImage already has existing licensing or service partnerships with companies such as Merck, Organon, Eli Lilly, and Infinity.
Pagliaro said that BioImage will also soon be announcing its official relationship with an unidentified high-content instrument provider, which has validated BioImage’s assays on one of its plate readers.
“We basically have a number of assays validated on their platform now,” Pagliaro said. “We’ve actually had some assays validated on the [system] for a while, but now we’ve got them validated to full specs — basically, they’re application notes, so it’s the real deal.”
BioImage has had some success in this arena as well, as it has similar partnerships in place — although not necessarily regarding the same assays — with GE Healthcare and PerkinElmer (see Inside Bioassays, 9/7/2004).
Also on the Agenda
The exhibit hall at the HCS conference will be relatively modest — with only about 20 companies exhibiting — but the roster reads like a who’s who in high-content screening instrumentation.
Established high-content instrument providers Cellomics, Evotec Technologies, GE Healthcare, and Molecular Devices will be present, as will nascent HCS players Beckman Coulter, BD Biosciences, Applied Precision and Biolog.
Although none of these HCS instrument providers is introducing new products or announcing news, all said that they were looking forward to demonstrating their high-content plate readers and microscopy systems in a highly focused setting.
The conference will also provide an ideal forum for a few informatics and software companies, such as Definiens and Accelrys, to ply their wares for HCS.
Accelrys, in particular, is entering uncharted territory, as its informatics product offerings have generally centered on other areas of life science research, such as high-throughput screening, molecular modeling, and structure-activity relationships.
But Steve Levine, Accelrys’ senior director of strategic partnerships, told Inside Bioassays last week that the company has several product offerings that it feels can help fill some important gaps in HCS.
Levine said that Accelrys added several useful products to its portfolio with last year’s acquisition of SciTegic.
“Because [SciTegic] provides data pipelining, and data-flow middleware, we think that it can contribute significantly toward bringing together a lot of the data content [in HCS],” Levine said. “So now we have several components — some technology from the high-throughput side alone, the combinatorial side, the theoretical side, and now the middle-ware side, and we think we can help companies bring together the various components for high-content analysis.”