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Packard Creates New Biochip Unit, Adds Bioinformatics Staff from GSLI Acquisition

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IN THE WAKE of Packard Bioscience’s $120 million acquisition of GSLI Life Sciences, a provider of software-controlled laser detection and DNA analysis equipment, the business has formed Packard BioChip Technologies, a new unit that will incorporate GSLI.

Packard bought GSLI in a move to beef up its bioinformatics capabilities and its biochip products.

The biochip business will focus exclusively on producing and analyzing microarrays, biochips, and other tools used in genomics and proteomics. The new unit’s two divisions will be known as the BioChip Ventures and BioChip Instrument Divisions.

The BioChip Instrument Division will contain the entire 75-employee Life Sciences group that had been a unit of Kanata, Canada-based GSI Lumonics.

The Life Sciences group “will continue to operate aggressive research programs in various areas of biochip technologies, including advanced scanner technologies, analysis software, and other aspects of biochip instrumentation,” said Staf Van Cauter, Packard’s vice president, in charge of business development.

Packard does not expect to make any layoffs, said Van Cauter.

The BioChip Ventures division will develop products using Packard’s various chip technologies and will also be responsible for biochip production and marketing, both internally and with third parties, such as Motorola.

Mike Catalano, vice president and general manager of Packard Instrument, a manufacturing and distribution subsidiary, oversees bioinformatics. He has been appointed integration manager and interim general manager for Packard BioChip.

Van Cauter said the combined Packard and GSLI products will enable customers to produce and analyze a range of biochips including oligonucleotide, cDNA, and protein microarrays at low cost and with high-throughput capabilities.

GSLI specializes in biochip imaging and analysis, said Van Cauter. Its products are QuantArray, software for microarray analysis, and ScanArray, a laser-based microarray scanner for reading and interpreting gene expression experiments.

“Our combined products will enable customers to produce both gene chips and protein chips, to conduct experiments on thousands of genes simultaneously, and to image and analyze results with state-of-the-art multi-color laser scanning technology,” said Van Cauter.

Packard expects to apply GSLI’s laser biochip imaging and processing capabilities to new biochips and microarrays that will be produced using Packard’s ink-jet style printing technology.

For image and data analysis applications, GSLI’s software can interact with laser scanning and microarray imaging hardware and protocols so that, for example, interactive scatter-plot filters can be used to enable quick identification of differentially expressed genes, said Van Cauter.

In addition, GSLI offers data analysis for three or more color microarray image data such as that used for tri-allelic genotyping or single-nucleotide polymorphism applications. Also, GSLI scanners can read barcodes, which makes it possible for the company’s Quant-Array analysis software to track data through the system.

“We plan to further build on this excellent software foundation to add data management and data mining capabilities,” said Van Cauter.

Packard anticipates that the GSLI software will integrate well with its Biochip Arrayer microarray production tools and will enable a search function to verify the origin of experimental data, and to link it to the underlying genetic information printed on the microarrays.

Before the GSLI acquisition, Packard had over 25 software engineers to handle software development for instrumentation, data analysis, and bioinformatics.

ACCESS TO PROGRAMMERS

Winton Gibbons, genomics analyst at William Blair, said that until about six months ago when the Internet bubble burst, it had been difficult for genomics companies to hire software people.

“In general, independent somewhat of the specific content of bioinformatics companies, it’s not surprising that genomics instrumentation companies would consider buying them just to get access to the programmers let alone the specific tools. That has been somewhat mitigated since about April, it’s been a little easier to hire people,” said Gibbons.

Victor Woolley, vice president strategic planning at GSI Lumonics, said the company decided to sell off GSLI after it realized the amount of funds it would take to keep the business competitive in the face of consolidation and alliances in the microarray industry. He cited PerkinElmer’s acquisition of NEN Life Sciences and its partnership with Genomic Solutions, Affymetrix’s purchase of Genetic MicroSystems, and Agilent Technologies’ collaboration with Rosetta Inpharmatics.

“It appeared that [those companies] were betting that you needed a full scope of products to be really competitive. And we either had to buy them or develop them,” he said.

Woolley declined to say which other companies were interested in buying GSLI.

—Matthew Dougherty

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