Japanese consumer-electronics giant Matsushita Electric Industrial — which owns brands like Panasonic and Quasar — is wrapping up negotiations with upstart Quantum Dot to develop and manufacture Quantum Dot’s novel high-throughput SNP-genotyping technology, SNPtech Reporter has learned.
The arrangement, which is believed to be the first genomic-based deal of its kind for Matsushita, will likely enable Quantum Dot to begin marketing its Qbead technology to its two development partners in early fall, a Quantum Dot official said.
“We have finalized the agreement … the paperwork is being delivered to us [from Matsushita, but] we actually haven’t signed it yet,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official would not reveal Quantum Dot’s development partners but said they are US-based pharmaceutical companies. Quantum Dot in the past has had research collaborations with GlaxoSmithKline and Genentech, but the official would not say whether one or both are development partners.
The official said that Matsushita also will enable Quantum Dot to sell the Qbead platform to a much wider clientele of reference labs and research facilities early next year.
Founded in 1998 in Hayward, Calif., Quantum Dot, which is privately held, employs around 50 people. The firm’s collaboration with Matsushita, the world’s second-largest consumer electronics maker, is an important coup: It means its genotyping technology will be developed and built by a conglomerate that reported nearly $63 billion in consolidated sales last year, and that is renowned for the quality of its manufacturing process.
According to Quantum Dot, the Qbead platform enables researchers to investigate up to 500 genes in a high-throughput manner over many samples. “There’s nothing directly related out there right now,” the company said. The technology uses Quantum Dot’s fluorescent semiconductor nanocrystals called Qdots, or quantum dots, to encode microspheres that are used as platforms for multiplexed assays.
Quantum Dot defines its Qdots as “molecular-scale optical beacons” that behave like molecular LEDs by “lighting up biological-binding events with … applied colors.” The company said that combining mixtures of Qdots with emission wavelengths creates unique spectral “barcodes” that enable high levels of multiplexing.
Qdots — coincidentally sold in Japan by Tokyo-based SC Biosciences — might have applications in gene expression, genotyping, and proteomics, Joel Martin, Quantum Dot’s chairman, said recently.
The success of its Qdot technology led Quantum Dot to develop the Qbead platform, which eventually caught the eye of GlaxoSmithKline. In fact, Quantum Dot and Glaxo in April published results of a study that used 10 model SNPs to validate Qbead. The firms applied the system to SNP genotyping by encoding microspheres conjugated to allele-specific oligonucleotides, Quantum Dot said in the study, which appeared in the April issue of Nucleic Acids Research. After the oligo probes on the microspheres hybridized to PCR amplicons in the sample, researchers used flow cytometry to analyze individual microspheres.
“Each SNP is distinguished by its unique spectral barcode,” the company said.
“By modifying the types of probes conjugated to microspheres, the … system can … be adapted to other assay chemistries for SNP genotyping as well as to other applications such as analysis of gene-expression and protein-protein interactions.”
A Glaxo spokeswoman in April said the Qbead system “worked very well as a [SNP]-detection technology, and that it enhanced our genotyping capabilities and … advanced our research at that time.”
Asked at the time whether Glaxo would become a Qbead customer, she said “it would depend on our research needs. We’re always open to the best pathway that are available to us to accomplish what we need, and we certainly depend on companies like Quantum dot for their technology.”
Reached by telephone, Andy Watson, Quantum Dot’s vice president of business development, said his company and Glaxo are no longer working together. But he added that the British pharma giant “want[s] us to have a commercial system, and we will have a commercial system.” He declined to say whether this meant Glaxo is eager to become a Qbead customer.
Matsushita stands ready to realize that goal. Though Watson would not name Matsushita as Quantum Dot’s new partner — he said only that the company is a Japanese firm with a “household name” — Matsushita “wants to make it into the genomics and life-sciences space, and is essentially paying us a lot of money and is doing an awful lot of instrumentation development and manufacturing work for us on our behalf,” Watson told SNPtech Reporter.
Bala Manian, a current board member of Quantum Dot and a current board member, confirmed that Matsushita is the Japanese company; a senior Quantum Dot official also confirmed and provided details of the agreement on the condition of anonymity. Matsushita “is very excited about the Qbead technology,” said the official.
Spokespeople at Matsushita’s offices in Osaka and Secaucus, NJ, were unfamiliar with the deal and could not offer specifics.
Though Quantum Dot officials portray this agreement as the first genomics-based deal of its kind for Matsushita, it is actually the latest in a handful of biotechnology and health-care diversions the Japanese conglomerate has made over the past two years.
Last May, for example, the company’s Panasonic division used its nanometer fabrication platform, originally designed for use in Matsushita’s audio business, to develop a screening technology to study drug efficacy. The technology, called Drugmining, is expected to be commercialized this month, Matsushita said.
Earlier that month, Matsushita penned a five-year plan with Tensor Biosciences to develop and sell a microarray that enables researchers to observe real-time activity of brain tissue. That product, called the Brain-on-a-Chip, will be based on Matsushita’s MED 64 system, which uses a computer chip-like probe to stimulate and record the electrical activity of various brain tissues.
“The MED 64 system is an exciting new business area for our company,” Fumio Otsubo, Matsushita’s managing director, said in a statement that month. The collaboration “allows Matsushita its accumulated intellectual property in the biosciences and the latest digital electronics technology.”
Lastly, in May 2001, Matsushita agreed to develop and market a wide range of molecular diagnostic products with Bayer Diagnostics.