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Can 3M s Microfluidics-Card Technology Aid Third Wave s Invader to Rival ABI s TaqMan?

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A version of Third Wave Technologies’ flagship Invader DNA and RNA detection system would be available with microfluidic technology made by 3M under a supply pact with 3M Bioanalytical Technologies, the companies said last week.

Third Wave spokesman Rod Hise said the two companies would produce a microfluidic card equipped with an Invader assay. He would not discuss product applications and timelines until “sometime in the fourth quarter.” The product, if successful, may eventually share a market with ABI’s TaqMan.

According to Third Wave, the Invader-3M Platform’s potential benefits would be its simplicity and a reduced number of liquid-handling steps. It has a number of ports on one end into which the sample is pipetted, and through centrifuging, the sample and reagents are mixed. Then it’s incubated and results can be read, Hise said.

The card format is similar to the ubiquitous 96-well plate, said Pacific Growth Equities analyst Adam Chazan, but it has other likely advantages. “It allows you to get more done on a small footprint, and you could possibly reduce the number of handling steps,” said Chazan. “And since you’re dealing with such small volumes, you’re probably going to improve the sensitivity of the assay itself.”

Chazan, who covers Third Wave for Pacific Growth, speculated in a recent market report that the supply agreement would result in an Invader product similar to Applied Biosystems’ TaqMan cards. In fact, 3M last year helped ABI develop the TaqMan card.

Overall, Chazan said, the assay-card market could be picking up momentum, although it represents only a fraction of the total real-time market. “TaqMan is now available on a microfluidics card, and so it’s nice that they’ve already done all the work to validate that assays done in that format have a market,” he said. “And this is just another way to do it. I think we’ll ultimately see more of the same kind of thing.”

Should clinical labs — the target market for both Invader and TaqMan products — brace for a wave of card-based assays?

3M Bioanalytical Technologies spokesman John Cornwell said this was the first time the industrial giant had used its microfluidics card “in this niche,” and that he did not believe his company’s arrangement with Third Wave was an exclusive one. However, according to an ABI filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, 3M and the Applera unit developed ABI’s microfluidic-card system for gene expression analysis, which later became the TaqMan Low Density Array. ABI began selling the product last year. According to the filing, ABI and 3M had “previously considered developing a card for SNP-genotyping, but since “suspended” the project.

“We look to expand through arrangements like this as well as through our own internally developed products,” said Cornwell, but he refused to speculate about future microfluidics-card deals with pharmacogenomics companies.

According to Hise, details about the card might have to wait until winter, but he mentioned a few possible applications. Since “the card could be used with virtually any multi-analyte test,” its future might involve other items in the firm’s menu of products and those in the pipeline, as well as tests for cystic fibrosis and hepatitis C virus [see 5/13/04 PGx Reporter].

“At the end of the day, we’re at the very beginnings of the market for both [microfluidics cards and] molecular diagnostics as Third Wave is kind of currently pushing the business,” said Pacific Growth’s Chazan. “In the future there’s the potential to do things with personalized medicine, but that’s way, way off.”

ABI’s TaqMan card uses PCR chemistry licensed from Roche, while Invader uses a hybridization-mismatch technology. ABI attempted to acquire Third Wave in 2000, when ABI was known as PE Biosystems. According to a press release PE issued in 2000 announcing the proposed acquisition, which was later abandoned, ABI intended to marry its microfluidics technology to the Invader system. The release did not use the word “card.”

“[Invader, microfluidics cards, and real-time PCR] at one point were potentially resident within ABI,” Chazan told Pharmacogenomics Reporter. “It’s interesting how these technologies have found a home someplace else.”

— CW

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