Agilent Technologies has found yet another use for its microarray manufacturing resources. The company is now relying on its array fabrication facility, known internally as "the fab," to produce its new line of SureFISH oligonucleotide probes for fluorescence in situ hybridization experiments. And since launching the menu of probes last month, Agilent has been targeting SureFISH to its array customers, many of whom use FISH to validate array findings, according to a company executive.
"I think there is a pretty clear connection between people who use arrays and their use of FISH," said Robert Schueren, the firm's vice president and general manager of genomics. Introducing SureFISH was a "logical market extension," he said. Schueren spoke with BioArray News last week at the American College of Medical Genetics annual meeting in Charlotte, NC.
A number of other firms who serve the cytogenetics tools market sell FISH probes in addition to arrays and related reagents. BlueGnome sells BlueFish probes to complement its 24sure and CytoChip arrays. Kreatech Diagnostics sells Poseidon FISH probes in addition to its ULS universal linkage system array labeling kits. And Abbott Molecular offers a line of Vysis FISH probes, in addition to offering several panels that run on Luminex's xMAP platform.
Agilent believes its products are different from rival offerings because they are oligo-based and produced using its SurePrint array technology while its competitors use bacterial artificial chromosome clones to produce more probes. At Agilent's Santa Clara, Calif.-based headquarters, oligos are synthesized on glass slides and then cleaved using a "proprietary cleaving method," said Schueren. They are then shipped to another facility in Cedar Creek, Texas, where they are packaged and then delivered to customers. Agilent last year registered its Cedar Creek facility with the US Food and Drug Administration as a medical device establishment, and Agilent's SureFISH probes are marketed as class I analyte specific reagents, according to the firm.
Agilent is touting the fact that its FISH products are oligo-based, rather than BAC-based, as an advantage in the market.
"It seemed that there was an opportunity to improve the technology of FISH testing over traditional BAC probes," said Schueren. "Because of the way oligos work versus BACs, you can target some pretty small regions," he said. Agilent offers FISH probes that target areas smaller than 50 kilobases, "something you can't traditionally do with a BAC probe," he said. "And since you don't require clones to make FISH probes with oligos you can really make probes that were never made before," he added.
E-mails to BlueGnome, Kreatech, and Abbott seeking comment about their various offerings were not returned in time for this publication.
In its first release, Agilent began offering 325 SureFISH probes for tagging cetromeres and telomeres, covering "common microdeletion syndromes, tumor suppressors, and oncogenes," Schueren said. He added that Agilent will be expanding its menu in coming months.
Shashikant Kulkarni, head of clinical genomics at the Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis, said that he had adopted SureFISH probes because there are "lots of issues" with BAC-based FISH probes, such as the inability to visualize small changes. This issue has become more pressing as arrays have been adopted in cytogenetics. Since high-resolution arrays can detect small changes, it is difficult for researchers to obtain BAC probes to confirm them.
"What we are seeing with arrays is that you have lots of smaller deletions and duplications which are out of the detection sensitivity of BAC probes," Kulkarni told BioArray News at the conference. "So now this approach allows us to look at smaller changes, and it is really critical to use FISH for confirmation, because you want to be able to visualize the duplication," he said.
Agilent's expansion into the FISH probe market has caused the firm to make further investments in its array manufacturing facilities. The same facility in Santa Clara is used to make all of its target enrichment products, both its SureSelect and HaloPlex kits, in addition to all its catalog and custom microarrays.
"We are making more products than ever, the business is growing, so you have to scale with it," said Schueren. "The fab is busier than ever, and we are always trying to plan ahead as far as possible to predict our growth so that we can meet the needs" of the market, he said.
Agilent gained HaloPlex through its December 2011 acquisition of Uppsala, Sweden-based Halo Genomics. Since then, Agilent has transferred HaloPlex's probe manufacturing and kit production from Sweden to Santa Clara, Schueren said. He noted that Agilent has at the same time increased R&D capabilities in Halo Genomics' Uppsala location "fairly significantly" in recent months. "We think there is great technology and science coming out of that team [and] we want to continue to grow and enhance our position in the target enrichment market," he said.
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