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Invitrogen, Building Dx Play, 'Welcomes' Competition from Emerging Rivals

Invitrogen, aiming to expand into the molecular diagnostics market, "welcomes" existing and impending competition from small, private shops, a company official said yesterday at BIO 2006, held in Chicago this week.

Todd Nelson, vice president of corporate development at the life sciences powerhouse, said during a molecular diagnostics session that these companies will eventually become "collaboration" opportunities for Invitrogen, which has grown in size and scope in recent years by adhering to a diet of steady acquisitions.

Nelson, a session panelist, said he is "thrilled" that privately held companies have been developing technologies to play in a space for which Invitrogen is gunning. Specifically, he said he is glad that as these companies grow, they are transferring the "burden" of risk to venture capital companies — and presumably off of potential suitors — which will enable them to develop a wide array of diagnostic technology.

When these technologies are developed, Nelson said, "we can start collaborating with them."

In fact, Invitrogen disclosed one such collaboration today, a deal with Germany's Signalomics to develop nanocrystal reagents to identify tumors in vivo in patient tissue. The agreement continues a joint development program between Signalomics and the BioPixels business unit of BioCrystal, which Invitrogen acquired in October 2005.

Nelson made his remarks after Jorge Leon, president of the consultancy Leomics Associates and acting chief scientific officer of Orion Genomics, remarked to the panel that many startup companies — he singled out Orion Genomics and three others — are eating into the molecular diagnostics market. Leon, who identified himself as a diagnostics consultant, then asked what companies like Invitrogen and Roche Diagnostics, represented on the panel by Chris Meda, vice president of business development, are doing about it.

"We welcome" these companies, said Nelson. Meda agreed.

To be sure, Nelson's remarks do not necessarily signal that Invitrogen has a molecular diagnostics acquisition in the breech. And though Invitrogen has not disclosed its specific intentions for the market, CEO Greg Lucier has publicly said that the firm has no plans to become a clinical diagnostics company. In the past, he said if Invitrogen wanted to buy a clinical diagnostics business it has the resources to do it, but it has no plans to take the company in that direction. Lucier had also said the company would not buy a contract research organization.

Dx Foundation

Invitrogen's interest in the molecular diagnostics industry has been building over the past couple of years and the company has made a string of acquisitions to bolster that play. In particular, its purchases of Molecular Probes in 2003 and its acquisitions of Dynal, Caltag, and BioSource last year were made with an eye on grabbing a chunk of the molecular diagnostics market.

The firm furthered this goal in January when it realigned its BioDiscovery unit into two divisions, Life Sciences and Enabling Technologies. The Enabling Technologies division, which now primarily targets the research market, will focus on nanotechnology, imaging and microscopy, cell separation and analysis, labeling and detection, bead-based separations, and the firm's antibody center of excellence. Invitrogen said this division will include its Molecular Probes, Dynal, BioSource, and Quantum Dot products — all of which Invitrogen acquired over the past two years.

At the time, Lucier said, "If you look at the capabilities in that business, it's really set up for broader applications," and cited molecular diagnostics as a field that would be served by the technologies that have been placed together in that division.

The realignment occurred after Invitrogen penned a pair of high-profile biomarker-discovery pacts last year with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Mayo Clinic. Invitrogen did not outline its specific objectives for these alliances, saying only that they will help the company adopt a "patient-centric" view, in the words of David Odelson, Invitrogen's director of corporate development, according to GenomeWeb News sister publication BioCommerce Week.

In a separate interview with BioCommerce Week at the time, Claude Benchimol, Invitrogen's senior vice president of research and development, said the firm hopes to expand its presence in the clinical market — a strategy that included the creation of a corporate research laboratory.

"We want to become more medically relevant and closer to our customers," Benchimol had said. "We want to engage in collaboration with academic and research institutions, as well as other customers to help solve big problems."

Though Invitrogen remains tight-lipped about its molecular diagnostics plans, Nelson, the corporate development VP, said at BIO 2006 today that one area of interest for the company could be "enabling" pharmaceutical companies that want to partner with diagnostic shops to develop companion drug-diagnostic products, or so-called theranostics. According to Nelson, this is an area of "exceptional growth."

Another hint of the company's interest in molecular diagnostics could be gauged from the fact that three out of the seven sessions at BIO in which Invitrogen was slated to participate focused on diagnostics (the others comprised two for stem cell medicine, and one each for translational medicine and general drug discovery and development).

Nelson also said the company plans to launch its CISH (chromogenic in situ hybridization technology) pathology products, which it inherited from Zymed after acquiring the company in January 2005 for $60 million. He did not say when the company will roll out the line.

In the end, Nelson's answer to Leon's question during the BIO session might encourage privately held diagnostics companies to continue developing their technologies, and embolden venture capitalists to invest more in these small shops. According to some insiders, the industry could use a kick in the pants.

"Diagnostics in the 20th century [were] embarrassingly bad," John Ioannidis, a professor at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece, said during a session at Cambridge Healthtech's Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference in San Francisco in February. "I think the tests we have available show poor performance; they don't provide useful information in the clinical setting. For most diseases we are almost at a loss."

Orion Genomics' Leon added at that conference that, in particular, "the cancer diagnostic market is really pathetic."

An Invitrogen spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


OGeS to Develop Colorectal Cancer Biomarkers With Oxford University Researchers, Joins GE Consortium

Oxford Genome Sciences and researchers at the Department of Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Oxford are collaborating to discover clinical biomarkers for colorectal cancer, OGeS said this week.

In forming the collaboration, OGeS joins an ongoing research consortium between the University of Oxford and GE Healthcare to develop personalized diagnostic tests and treatments for colorectal cancer. The consortium was founded last fall with funding from GE Healthcare.

Under the two-year agreement, OGeS will use its proteomics technology and Oxford Genome Anatomy Project protein database to discover diagnostics for early- and late-stage colorectal cancer, and to identify protein biomarkers of recurring colorectal cancer. OGeS will analyze protein profiles of blood samples, as well as genetic variations and risk factors, from colorectal cancer patients.

Last week, OGeS and Biosite said they were also collaborating to develop new diagnostics for relapsing colorectal cancer.


Myriad Genetics and Abbott Enter 'Broad' Drug-Discovery Collaboration

Myriad Genetics and Abbott said this week that they have entered into a "broad drug-discovery collaboration" to identify unspecified therapeutic targets of interest.

The five-year research agreement calls for Myriad to use its RNA expression profiling and "other technologies" to identify human genes and regulatory networks associated with a variety of diseases, the companies said.

Abbott will then advance these genes through to its chemical genomics platform to identify targets and leads for drug discovery.

Each company will have exclusive rights to the therapeutic targets and drug lead compounds, with Myriad receiving rights to approximately 40 percent of the targets, and Abbott receiving rights to approximately 60 percent, the companies said.

It is unclear whether the new collaboration is related to a pharmacogenomics collaboration started between the companies in January 2004, and extended in November 2005.

Myriad and Abbott officials could not be reached for comment.


Illumina to Genotype Prostate Cancer Samples for Cancer Research UK in $7M Deal

Illumina will genotype prostate cancer samples for Cancer Research UK, the company said this week.

Under the agreement, valued at almost $7 million, Illumina will provide genotyping services to researchers at Cancer Research UK, a non-profit research organization. Initially, Ilumina will conduct whole-genome genotyping for at least 4,000 prostate patients samples and controls. In a second phase, the company will develop a custom, 12-sample BeadChip that it will use to genotype at least 8,000 samples. Illumina will use its Sentrix BeadChips and Infinium assay for the project.

The goal is to identify potential cancer biomarkers, and to analyze chromosomal aberrations.

This is the second genotyping service agreement between the two partners in the last six months. In November, Cancer Research UK selected Illumina to provide genotyping services for colorectal cancer.


… Says Earnings to Exceed Expectations in Q1

Illumina had better revenue and earnings in the first quarter than expected, the company said last week.

Illumina said it expects to exceed both its revenue and net income per share guidance for the first quarter of 2006. In February, the company said it expected between $22 million and $24 million in revenues, and income between $0 and $0.02 per basic and diluted share in the first quarter.

Illumina did not disclose the updated projections, but said it will release its first-quarter earnings on April 18 after the close of market.


Genomics Collaborative and Cybridi to Co-Develop Breast Cancer Tissue Array

Genomics Collaborative and Cybrdi will co-develop a breast tumor tissue microarray, the companies said last week.

The arrays will be accompanied by clinical data on the molecular factors of the tissue to "establish correlations between the severity of the disease, responses to treatments, and the presence of certain biomarkers," Larry Liu, president and CEO of Cybrdi, said in the statement. "It can be expanded to other types of malignancies, including colon, lung, and brain tumors."

Genomics Collaborative, a division of SeraCare Life Science, is providing tissue from its GC Global Repository samples, which are linked to clinical, demographic, and treatment data.

"We hope to generate additional tumor-specific tissue arrays that look at the tissue's response to treatment," said Kevin Krenitsky, Genomics Collaborative senior vice president, in the statement.


Third Wave, Mitsubishi Form Joint Venture to Develop PGx-Based Diagnostics

Third Wave Technologies and Mitsubishi have formed a joint venture for personalized medicine in Asia-Pacific region, the companies said last week.

The joint venture, Third Wave Japan, plans to develop products for the Japanese molecular diagnostic market, including tests for diagnosing infectious diseases and products to improve drug safety and efficacy.

Third Wave will hold worldwide rights outside the Asia-Pacific region to any new technology or product developed by Third Wave Japan.

Third Wave Japan and Mitsubishi also plan to accelerate the penetration of Third Wave's Invader products in clinical laboratories in the region, especially in Japan.

Mitsubishi has a 14-percent minority investment in Third Wave Japan. In addition, CSK Holdings, through its new subsidiary CSK Institute for Sustainability, will hold a 3-percent stake in the joint venture.


Canary Foundation Gives $860K to BC Cancer Foundation to Develop Ovarian Cancer Blood Test

The Canary Foundation has given CA$1 million ($860,000) to the British Columbia Cancer Foundation to develop a blood test for the early detection of ovarian cancer, the organization said last week.

The funding will be used by the BC Cancer Agency on Vancouver Island as part of a collaborative research project involving multiple institutions.

According to Don Listwin, founder of the Canary Foundation, Michael Ball, CEO of proteomics software company GenoLogics was "instrumental" in encouraging the donation. "Initially, a common vision for the future of early cancer detection using proteomics research connected us," Listwin said in a statement.

Besides the BC Cancer Agency, the project involves researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Stanford University; the University of Southern California; the University of California, San Francisco; and Intel.


CombiMatrix Molecular Dx Gets New Facility in Toronto

CombiMatrix Molecular Diagnostics has established a new facility in Toronto, the company, a subsidiary of CombiMatrix, said this week.

The new facility is located at the MaRS (Medical and Related Sciences) Discovery District, a not-for-profit corporation, in downtown Toronto, and will be led by Mansoor Mohammed, CMDX's chief scientific officer and vice president, who is a Canadian citizen.

"Moving forward we anticipate establishing strong relationships with Canadian customers, partners, and the government," said CombiMatrix CEO Amit Kumar in a company statement.


Keck Futures Initiative Awards $1M in Grants for 'Genomics and Infectious Disease' Research

The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative this week announced the recipients of its 2005 Futures grants.

The initiative awarded 14 total grants, each in the amount of $50,000 or $75,000, to support interdisciplinary research on genomics and infectious disease.

The recipient institutions, amounts, and research topics are:

  • North Carolina State University, Yale University School of Medicine, and University of Maryland, College Park; $75,000; "The Co-evolution of Human and Plasmodium Genomic Interactions."
  • University of California, Los Angeles; $75,000; "Exploring the Emerging Role of Public Health in Integrating Genomics into the Control and Prevention of Infectious Diseases."
  • University of California, Berkeley, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine; $75,000; "Metagenomic Studies of Human Microbiota in Crohn's Disease."
  • University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and University of Colorado, Boulder; $75,000; "Dynamics of the Human Intestinal Flora in Health and Disease."
  • Duke University; $75,000; "Engineering 'Microbial Swarmbots' for Medical Applications."
  • University of Texas Health Science Center and Brandeis University; $50,000; "Identification of Isocitrate Lyase Inhibitors as Broad-Spectrum Antimicrobial Drugs."
  • University of Washington and Harvard Medical School; $75,000; "Role of Nitric Oxide on White Blood Cell Function in Inflammation and Infection."
  • University of Washington; $75,000; "Direct Electronic Detection of Molecular Recognition and Binding Events with Engineered Nano-Scale Structures."
  • University of Maryland School of Medicine; $75,000; "Genetic Diversity and Efficacy of Malaria Drugs and Vaccines."
  • Stanford University and University of California, Los Angeles; $75,000; "Bringing Genomics to the Rainforest: The Study of Monkeypox in the Democratic Republic of Congo."
  • Duke University and University of California, Riverside; $75,000; "Creating an Inexpensive Diagnostic for Malaria Using Combined Nanotechnology and Genomic Approaches."
  • Texas A&M University, and CombiMatrix; $75,000; "Enhancement of DNA Microarray Hybridization Using Thermal Gradient Induced Convective Flow."
  • Stanford University and Stanford Genome Technology Center; $50,000; "Low Cost and Rapid Microbe Diagnostics to Combat Drug Resistance Phenomenon in Infectious Diseases."
  • University of Texas Medical Branch and University of Denver; $75,000; "Micro Incubator for Bacterial Infectious Agents."

The National Academies comprises the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. The Keck Futures Initiative is a 15-year effort to foster interdisciplinary scientific research.


Sciona Raises $6.5M in Investment Round

Sciona has raised $6.5 million in a private investment round to continue developing its nutra-genetics business, the company said last week in a statement.

The investment round included DSM Venturing, Prelude rust, Burrill and Company, BioVentures, BASF Venture Capital, and Semola Limited.

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