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Motorola And Packard Instrument Team Up To Commercialize New BioChip Technology

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ARGONNE, Ill.--Executives of Motorola and Packard Instrument announced in a press teleconference last week that they will team up to commercialize and market biochips and related analytical technologies developed at the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory here. The companies predicted the technology will make the process of decoding genes 1,000 times faster than current technologies allow. By combining Motorola's mass production capabilities, Packard's core competencies in bioanalytical equipment and reagents, and the intellecutal property of Argonne and its research collaborator, the Russian Academy of Science's Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow, the partners predicted the biochip technology will be useful to human health, agriculture, and environmental markets for a wide range of applications.

Motorola said its new bioinformatics division, Motorola Millen nium Ventures, will develop manufacturing processes to mass-produce biochips, while Packard develops and manufactures the analytical instruments to process and analyze the biochips.

Argonne and the Engelhardt Institute have licensed 19 inventions related to biological micro chips to the two companies in exchange for a total investment of $19 million over five years to support the joint-research agreement. The deal is one of the largest such agreements in ever signed by a DOE laboratory in biotechnology. The inventions are the result of more than $10 million in research support since 1994 by the DOE, the Defense Advanced Research Pro jects Agency, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Russian Human Genome Program.

The Argonne/Engelhardt bio chips employ a novel microgel technology. As many as 10,000 microstructures are mounted on a single glass surface in which chemical compounds can be tested against biological targets to provide answers to questions about DNA sequence, genetic variation, gene expression, protein interaction, and immune response, the companies claimed.

"Instead of reading DNA one letter or word at a time, they read whole phrases and sentences at a time. It's like speed-reading the genetic code with 100 percent comprehension."

In addition to being faster than conventional gene sequencing methods, the biochips provide a three-dimensional platform that allows greater sensitivity and accuracy in assaying proteins, RNA, and DNA. Bioassays can be performed in days, the companies claimed. And, they said, the regulation of gene expression, which takes months to study with conventional sequencing techniques, can be accomplished with the new technology in a single, parallel experiment.

"Instead of reading DNA one letter or word at a time, they read whole phrases and sentences at a time," said Andrei Mirzabekov, a biologist whose research at Argonne and Engelhardt developed the biochips. "It's like speed-reading the genetic code with 100 percent comprehension.

The companies said that miniaturization and automation will allow this technology and its associated analytical equipment to greatly reduce the amount of a sample needed for analysis and increase the number of samples that can be analyzed simultaneously. For example, conventional drug screening typically costs $4 - 5 per sample. Packard estimates that through miniaturization, costs can be brought down to 40 cents--or even to 4 cents--per sample.

Motorola said it plans to develop and refine the technology to mass produce biochips over the next four or five years. It will use Packard's patented nanoliter liquid-handling technology to develop the capability to mass-produce biochips for specific markets and applications. Motorola will be a supplier to Packard and its customers worldwide, as well as to other organizations in the clinical diagnostics market.

Packard will focus on the life-science and drug-discovery markets by developing, manufacturing, and distributing two instruments--the BioChip Arrayer and the BioChip Imager--that together will create a single system for dispensing assays onto the biochips and analyzing the reactions.

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