Phalanx Biotech, a five-year-old Taiwanese company that specializes in low-cost, whole-genome expression arrays, this month extended its reach into the microRNA market by debuting catalog arrays for multiple organisms and offering miRNA expression profiling services in house.
According to the Phalanx, catalog OneArray chips are now available for studies involving human, mouse, rat, primate, fruit fly, zebrafish, Arabidopsis, maize, and other model organisms and plants. The company is looking to differentiate itself from other players in the miRNA array market — such as Agilent Technologies, Life Technologies, Exiqon, and Febit — by stressing the "quality, performance, and affordability" of its OneArray platform.
Luke Chen, the firm's vice president of sales, marketing, and business development, told BioArray News that Phalanx decided to take a shot at the miRNA array market, because it believes it is able to offer users chips with those attributes.
"Basically, we think the market size is big enough, which leverages our ability to print large batches," Chen said. "This market could also benefit from our core competencies, which are quality, performance, and affordability." According to Chen, its miRNA chips sell for around $89 per array. The firm similarly charges a competitive price of $79 for its whole-genome arrays. Rival Illumina, for example, advertises $160 whole-genome arrays on its website.
Some of the miRNA arrays launched this month include the Human & Primate miRNA OneArray, which contains 3,228 total features, including 3,120 human and primate miRNA probes, and 108 control probes from 18 different organisms, including human, chimpanzee, and Rhesus monkey; the Mouse & Rat miRNA OneArray, which contains 2,319 total features, including 2,184 mouse and rat miRNA probes and 135 control probes; and the Plant I miRNA OneArray, which contains1,272 total features, including 1,143 plant probes and 135 control probes from organisms such as Arabadopsis thaliana, Gossypium herbecium, Gossypium hirsutum, Oryza sativa, Vitis vinifera, and Zea mays.
As part of the launch, Chen said that Phalanx is making public a new partnership with Kreatech Diagnostics. Phalanx is packaging its miRNA OneArrays with Kreatech's ULS microRNA Labeling Kit. "We have chosen Kreatech because their newest kit can work directly from 250 nanograms of total RNA without the additional enrichment step, and takes less than 30 minutes for the labeling step," Chen said.
As part of its market launch, Phalanx is also offering an miRNA profiling service. Chen said that Phalanx is "ready to take samples." Customers provide the firm with RNA, Phalanx uses Kreatech's kit internally, processes the sample, and performs the analysis for the customer.
One potential drawback for the firm in the competitive miRNA array market is that its chips are several versions behind the current release of the miRBase database, hosted by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Manchester.
The company's arrays contain content from miRBase v. 11.0, launched in April 2008, while miRBase v. 13.0 was just released this week. And at least one competitor, Heidelberg, Germany-based Febit, is already making miRNA biochips available that contain the content from miRBase v. 13.0.
Chen acknowledged that "there will be a lag" going forward in Phalanx's miRNA array line, because the firm does not print its arrays using in situ synthesis. Still, he said other characteristics of the platform would enable Phalanx to distinguish itself in the market.
"We don't have the flexibility to design on the spot, but that is one of the reasons we are able to take the cost down. So it's a give and take," Chen said. He added that most of the changes between versions 11 and 12 for miRBase involved an increase in the number of species, while "the increase in human, mouse, and rat miRNAs has actually not been that big."
While Phalanx focuses on finding a niche for its miRNA arrays, the company has also been growing its OneArray Express program, which it launched last year. The program stocks core labs with large supplies of Phalanx's chips on-site, therefore eliminating shipping and handling costs. The setup enables Phalanx to offer its OneArray chips for less than its competitors', according to the firm (see BAN 2/29/2008).
Chen told BioArray News when OneArray Express was launched last year that customers could "just place an order, walk over, and pick it up," eliminating additional shipping and handling costs. "Within an hour they should have arrays and be ready to run experiments," he said. "Having the lower price takes a lot of fear out of people using arrays. Scientists used to have to worry that one screw up could cost them $500. They don't have to worry about it anymore," he said at the time.
Phalanx's initial OneArray Express clients included core facilities at Oklahoma State University, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Harvard Medical School. Over the past year, core labs from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of Connecticut, and Texas A&M University have also joined the program.
"We are getting increasing interest, and growing our customer base for OneArray products. The strong performance and significant saving in overall cost from other brands are especially attractive in this economy," Chen said this week. He added that over the past year, Phalanx has been "gaining more businesses from pharmaceutical and biotech customers," though he declined to name them.
Winston Kuo, director of Harvard's Laboratory for Innovative Translational Technologies, told BioArray News this week that there has been a "growing interest" in the OneArray platform, and that there are "several manuscripts reporting results using the OneArray" in development at his lab. "We will be getting our first tranche of human and mouse miRNA arrays next week," he noted. "In fact, several orders have been placed."
A final pillar of Phalanx's developing business model is its original equipment manufacturing business. Phalanx currently OEMs chips for Belgian life sciences firm Eurogentec. Chen said that currently, OEM deals are not a "big portion" of the firm's business. Still, Chen said that Phalanx is in the midst of packaging its custom printing and shipping offering to seek more OEM partnerships in the US. "We are getting some custom projects, but it is not our major business yet, though it can be," said Chen.