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Affy Sees Opportunities for New 384-Sample Axiom Genotyping Product in Ag, Disease Research Markets

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Affymetrix representatives recently provided an update on the firm's forthcoming 384-sample genotyping product and advocated its use in both agricultural biotechnology and human disease research.

"The 384 format is ideally suited for genomic selection or marker selection, where you have to do high-throughput [analyses on the order of] 3,000 samples per week," said Shantanu Kaushikkar, head of strategic marketing for agrigenomics at Affy. "It's the next step for ag researchers."

Kaushikkar spoke with BioArray News about the new offering at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference, held in San Diego last week.

Company officials first discussed the new offering, referred to as the 384 Axiom HT, at the JP Morgan Healthcare Global Healthcare Conference, which was held in San Francisco earlier this month. During a breakout session at that event, CEO Frank Witney said that users will soon be able to process 384 arrays, each containing up to 50,000 customer-selected markers, on the firm's automated GeneTitan instrument (BAN 1/15/2013). Currently, Affy customers can run 96 Axiom genotyping arrays at a time on the GeneTitan.

Andy Last, executive vice president of the firm's genetic analysis business unit, said that the Axiom 384 HT is now being made available to beta users in North America and Europe and could become commercially available in the second quarter.

According to Last, the introduction of the new high-throughput tool is part of a larger effort within the firm to make its technology available for larger studies at lower cost.

"Our investment focus on where we are trying to improve the microarray platforms, whether it's genotyping or whether it's cytogenetics or whether it's expression, is around simplifying it, reducing cost, and increasing throughput," Last told BioArray News during a site visit to the company's headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., earlier this month.

"For the 384 launch, we are opening up a new possibility for customers because people don't really want to do so many [association] studies anymore; they want to do more targeted studies, where they do fine mapping of five or six known loci that are highly implicated in a disease," said Last. "They want to carpet bomb that area with SNPs and then go and test them in tens of thousands of patients," he said, "and 50,000 SNPs would be plenty to do that."

Like Kaushikkar, Last said that the Axiom 384 HT could be appealing to the "agbio world, where they are doing marker-assisted breeding of livestock, SNP arrays are still very cost sensitive, and they need extremely high throughput." He said that the availability of such a technology would "open up new possibilities" for the firm and create new markets for its array technology.

"Basically, you take that same instrument, [the GeneTitan], and you can run 384 individual samples in one go as part of a fine mapping study at a much lower price point, with the same labor — just push the button on the system," said Last. "People who have wanted to do studies in hundreds of thousands of samples can do that now," he said, "and you couldn't do that when people were charging $400 [for] a genotyping array."

Affy has not discussed the pricing per sample for the new Axiom 384 HT. The tool is being released at a time when the firm has seen increased revenue in its genotyping tools, though its expression array sales continue to sag.

Witney told investors at JP Morgan that the firm's genetic analysis business unit, which includes its Axiom genotyping products and CytoScan cytogenetics offering, is the company's "fastest growing" business. According to Witney, Axiom array sales grew 50 percent last year, largely due to an increased demand for targeted genotyping chips.

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