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While Revealing New Pricing Structure For Transfluor Translocation Assay Tech

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LONDON — Concurrent to the announcement of its new imaging software and hardware at the Marcus Evans High-Content Screening conference held here last week, Molecular Devices for the first time revealed its pricing structure for Transfluor, the fluorescent translocation assay the company acquired in March from Xsira Pharmaceuticals for $11 million.

Mike Sjaastad, Molecular Devices' director of marketing for imaging products, revealed in a presentation that Transfluor would cost €250,000 for an annual site fee. This pricing was intended for the largely European population in attendance; Sjaastad later explained that the price in US dollars would be comparable, but not an exact conversion.

The license would have no restrictions in terms of the number of targets screened; Molecular Devices will provide its customers with in-house and field support; and that image analysis for the assay is fully supported.

Sjaastad said that the pricing structure was designed to make Transfluor much more accessible. However, he acknowledged there could be an initial case of sticker shock and said he was prepared for a backlash, wryly commenting during his presentation that "it will be interesting to see how you feel about this," and jokingly urging audience members to refrain from throwing things at him.

He reminded the audience, though, that because of its wide range of applicability, the price may actually be a bargain depending on how much a customer takes advantage of the system's capabilities.

As an example, Sjaastad said that if a researcher were to screen more than one or two GPCRs per year that the relative cost of Transfluor would be dramatically decreased.

Transfluor's virtues are widely extolled within the drug discovery industry as a tool for assaying GPCR activation, in particular, for de-orphanizing GPCRs. Its former owner, Xsira (previously Norak Biosciences), had amassed an impressive list of customers within pharma and biotech. However, even under Xsira's ownership, some felt that Transfluor may have been prohibitively expensive for smaller biotechnology companies and academic researchers.

"A year ago, Transfluor was considered to be an unacceptable cost for us, and it's too bad because it is a very powerful assay," Michael Kazinski, chief technology officer for Xantos Biomedicine, said in a presentation. "Maybe things will have changed and we'll have to look into it again."

Will things change with Molecular Devices' new pricing structure? Early reaction is mixed.

"It seems like they're skimming, and targeting the top five pharma companies," said one marketing representative from a competing company who wished to remain anonymous. "It seems like a very stiff price, excluding academia and biotech. Even if they get only five [pharma] customers, each of which has two sites, that still gives them millions of dollars in revenue."

Despite the naysaying of its competitors, which obviously carries some bias, Molecular Devices said that the pricing structure is experimental, and that early reactions are just that: early.

"At this point, we really don't want to respond to that because we just launched it, and we don't have enough market information as to whether it's an appropriately priced technology," Jan Hughes, Molecular Devices' vice-president of worldwide marketing, told Cell-Based Assay News.

"The goal of that structure is to make it universally available, and restrict it much less than before," Sjaastad added. "We know that it's a better deal."

The value of Transfluor to Molecular Devices extends beyond straight licensing revenue, anyway, as the company has developed an image analysis algorithm for the assay in its new high-content screening software. It also believes the assay can be useful to customers using MDCC's non-imaging platforms, such as FLIPR, for high-throughput orphan GPCR screening or for screening GPCR targets coupled through calcium.

In addition, Sjaastad said that Molecular Devices is currently beta-testing a new Transfluor module for its imaging systems that will allow the assay to be used in a much higher-throughput screening mode.

— Ben Butkus ([email protected])