Microarrays Inc. will later this month launch focused microarrays for studying gene pathways related to growth factors, inflammation, and apoptosis. The pending launch is part of a larger decision by the Huntsville, Ala.-based firm to expand beyond selling whole-genome arrays to offering a menu of catalog focused chips.
CEO Joel Peek said that MI could ultimately offer between 20 and 25 such arrays, which it calls PathArrays. Next quarter, for instance, the firm will begin selling arrays for studying transcription factors, cancer, and protein kinases.
"Our goal is to release three additional pathway-specific arrays every quarter," said Peek. He said that the selection of each research-specific area is being driven by interactions between MI and researchers. "Presently, our third pathway-specific selection is near finalization and we've begun evaluating the fourth-wave candidates," Peek said. "However, we anticipate flux in the selection process as word gets out about the tools line and we hear from more interested researchers."
BioArray News spoke with Peek at Select Biosciences' Microarray World Congress, held in South San Francisco, Calif., last week.
MI has its origins in the Microarray Core facility of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Comprehensive Cancer Center in Nashville, Tenn. Based on the core's manufacturing expertise, the firm was established through Vanderbilt's Office of Enterprise Development in 2000.
In 2007, it acquired the array-ready oligonucleotide sets from Operon Technologies after that firm decided to divest its array business as part of its acquisition by Eurofins MWG Biotech. MI then moved to Huntsville in 2008 where it joined the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, a research center that hosts a dozen biotech firms. MI split from Vanderbilt last year when it was purchased by its management team with the help of private investors (BAN 7/20/2010).
The company currently employs eight full-time staffers, according to Peek.
MI's technology consists of an internally developed array production platform that relies on microfluidic deposition capillaries to deliver volumetric transfers and feature sizes to "meet the needs of any probe type," according to its website. The firm also includes a quality control assay called Veriprobe for monitoring DNA coupling efficiencies. For protein and other analytes, off-channel fluorophores are used to quantitate probe deposition volumes, the website states.
In addition to a healthy business as an original equipment manufacturer, the company has since its founding sold whole-genome arrays to its customers. However, MI has discovered in recent years that its clients would like arrays focused on certain genes and pathways. That prompted the firm to offer the new range of PathArrays.
"When we started out, most of our clientele were doing early-phase, whole-genome work," said Peek. "What we have noticed is that more and more people were buying our whole-genome product, but they were only looking at a subset of the genes on that product," he said. "Intuitively, it makes perfect sense that, as a research project matures, you are going to be looking at fewer and fewer probes," said Peek.
He added that the firm's customers found whole-genome analysis "cumbersome" and are eager to move to more focused arrays as they cost less and the firm can fit more assays on a slide.
According to Peek, MI's initial range of PathArrays will be four-sample slides, containing arrays of between 750 probes and 1,500 probes each. The firm's chips can be scanned on most available microarray scanners, he said, and the four arrays on each slide are separated by silicon gaskets.
He described the platform as "in transition between a static off-the-shelf product and a custom product," and said that MI is "very amenable to evolving the product and keeping it fresh."
As it enters the focused array market, MI's main competitor will be quantitative PCR, Peek said. Frederick, Md.-based SABiosciences, part of Qiagen, sells a long menu of pathway-focused PCR Arrays, for instance. Life Technologies' Applied Biosystems business is another potential competitor, and offers focused TaqMan Gene Expression Assays, as well as the OpenArray line of high-density PCR assays that it acquired in 2009 with BioTrove.
Peek said that MI's advantage in the market is its flexibility when it comes to the amount of content it can put on a chip. "Some manufacturers limit their pathway content to a single 96-well plate, or, occasionally, some of their larger pathways will have two plates," said Peek. "In our dialogue with users of those products and users of our arrays, what we find is there is really not enough content" on the competitors' platforms. "We try to let the science drive the content, not a 96-well plate drive the content," he said.
Other firms have made forays into the market for focused arrays but have not had much success. Eppendorf, for instance, used to offer a transcription factor-themed array on its DualChip platform but later abandoned the market to focus on its real-time array PCR, or RAP, platform (BAN 11/16/2010).
GE Healthcare's CodeLink business, later acquired by Applied Microarrays, also had a number of pathway-focused chips in development before AMI killed the programs to focus on its OEM business (BAN 5/13/2008).
With those array offerings out of the way, MI's main competition appears to mainly come from companies selling qPCR assays, as Peek noted.
"What we want to do is provide the researcher with the appropriate amount of content," said Peek. "That is not going to be dictated by the manufacturing platform, it is going to be dictated by what the researchers tell us," he said. "We think that is the real beauty of the system."
Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioArray News? Contact the editor at jpetrone [at] genomeweb [.] com.