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Why are Big HCS Shops Eschewing CHI for Newcomer Marcus Evans?

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Is Marcus Evans' two-year-old Practical Experiences of High-Content Screening meeting more important for high-content cellular analysis players than Cambridge Healthtech Institute's veteran Beyond Genome conference?

Many members of the biotech community will be plying their wares and bandying about such topics as bioinformatics, RNAi, proteomics, systems biology, and pharmacogenomics at the CHI meeting. And although the RNAi portion of that conference will contain a significant number of presenters from the field of high-content cellular analysis, most of the major players in this arena — such as GE Healthcare, Molecular Devices, Cellomics, Evotec Technologies, and BD Biosciences — will instead be in London at the Marcus Evans event.

While the much larger Beyond Genome meeting is set to cover as much ground in the biotech industry as possible, the Marcus Evans conference bills itself as a highly focused, intimate gathering, with every presentation centering on the experiences of pharma and biotech in using high-content cellular imaging for assay development, functional genomics, and target validation.

Representatives from several companies presenting or exhibiting at the Marcus Evans show told CBA News last week that they expect the meeting to be more of a "meet-and-greet" affair, with a focus on fostering higher-level partnerships among tool providers and pharmaceutical companies.

Beyond Genome, on the other hand, constitutes a much larger "user" crowd — that is, scientists in biotech and academia that will actually be sitting down and working with molecular biology tools, including high-content screening.

From the Inside

Cellomics will be particularly busy next week, as the Pittsburgh-based firm will have a major presence at both Beyond Genome, where its scientists will be giving three talks, and Marcus Evans, where it is the lead sponsor and one of a handful of exhibitors.

The company began participating in the Beyond Genome conference because "there are a lot of instances where people are doing things where HCS will be helpful for them," said Judy Masucci, Cellomics' director of marketing. Masucci cited examples such as bioinformatics and RNAi, two topics on which Cellomics scientists will be presenting at Beyond Genome.

"Another big part of the reason we go to Beyond Genome is that it's a big audience, and it's more of a biotech/academic focused audience versus a pharma audience," Masucci added.

In fact, this is why Carl Zeiss, Cellomics' US distributor to small biotechs and academia, will be exhibiting at Beyond Genome.

However, while Cellomics is sponsoring this year's Marcus Evans conference, it isn't a sponsor of Beyond Genome, despite the fact that Masucci noted that part of the reason Cellomics participates in the conference is because it has "a very good relationship" with CHI.

Explaining why her company attends the Marcus Evans conference, Masucci said it is "because it's a European-focused HCS show, and there really are no other HCS-specific conferences in Europe. We have a lot of customers in Europe, and last year was the first year that Marcus Evans did this."

Cellomics is actually hosting a day-long user-group meeting on June 15, a day before the Marcus Evans conference is to start, and Masucci said she suspects a fair number of workshop attendees don't plan to stay for the actual conference.

Other companies are planning user group meetings to take advantage of the highly specialized crowd expected at Marcus Evans. For instance, Molecular Devices is holding such a gathering on the same day as Cellomics, but only in the afternoon.

As reported by CBA News in May, Molecular Devices plans to launch a new imaging platform, among other new products, at the London event to bolster its presence in the high-content screening market, and possibly replace the Discovery-1 and ImageXpress platforms it currently offers.

Last week, Mike Sjaastad, Molecular Devices' director of marketing for imaging, declined to provide any further details of the product launch, or whether it was indeed still set to happen. However, the conference agenda said Molecular Devices will demonstrate a product called AcuityXpress, which is used for "cellular informatics and data mining."

Although Molecular Devices and Cellomics each have strong European presences, the Marcus Evans conference may seem like home turf for HCS providers Evotec Technologies and GE Healthcare — especially the latter, as Amersham, the company GE acquired last year to bring the IN Cell Analyzer HCS platform into the fold, is based just up the road in Little Chalfont.

GE Healthcare, which was rumored to also be holding a user group meeting, has not advertised such an event on its website or elsewhere. A GE Healthcare spokesperson was unable to comment prior to publication.

Evotec Tech especially considers the London show to be crucial because of its European locale. Kurt Herrenknecht, head of cellular applications and the Opera product manager at Evotec, told CBA News that the sharp focus on high-content screening was also important.

"It is a very important conference for us because the entire conference is focused on only high-content screening, and, of course, there are several presentations from people who are using the Opera in their research," Herrenknecht said. "I will be very interested to see what the perception is of people in the audience to those presentations. And as a matter of fact, we are already having talks with many of the people here about possible deals concerning Opera."

John Schneider, vice-president of marketing and business development at Vitra Bioscience, said that his company looked at both conferences, but decided that Beyond Genome was a much more appropriate forum for Vitra's goal of attracting customers to its relatively new technology platform, CellCard.

Even though Vitra's platform can be used for high-content screening, Schneider added, the company finds more value in exploring a wide array of possible drug-discovery applications for CellCard. The company has already recently branched out into the areas of RNAi and primary cell screening (see CBA News, 6/6/2005).

Finally, HCS newcomer BD Biosciences is expected to exhibit at Marcus Evans, but is not scheduled to make any presentations about its Pathway HT confocal plate reader, which the company acquired as part of Atto Biosciences almost one year ago (see CBA News, 7/6/2004). BD is also exhibiting at the Beyond Genome conference. BD Biosciences was unable to comment prior to publication.

Conspicuously absent from both the Marcus Evans show and Beyond Genome will be Beckman Coulter, which early last year entered the HCS fray with the acquisition of biotech start-up Q3DM. Since then, Beckman has spent almost a year overhauling Q3DM's automated microscopy platform, and in February officially re-released it as its own product, the IC 100 Imaging Cytometer (see CBA News, 2/22/2005).

Beckman is not presenting at, exhibiting at, or sponsoring the Marcus Evans or Beyond Genome conferences; it is unclear whether it will have representatives in attendance. Beckman was unable to comment before this article went to press.

— Ben Butkus ([email protected])

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