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Life Tech, Douglas Scientific Pact Expands Ag Bio Market, Opens Up New Arenas for Both Firms

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Life Technologies and Douglas Scientific late last week announced a collaboration and co-marketing agreement to pair Life Tech's TaqMan real-time PCR assays with Douglas Scientific's Array Tape platform for high-throughput genotyping applications.

The deal is expected to bolster the use of both companies' products in existing markets — particularly agricultural biotechnology and molecular-assisted breeding — and could open up an array of new markets characterized by the need for industrial-scale SNP genotyping, officials from both companies said this week.

Douglas Scientific, based in Alexandria, Minn., began as a division of Douglas Machine in 2009, and was incorporated as an independent company in 2010.

Its flagship product, Array Tape is a continuous 0.3-mm-thick polypropylene strip serially embossed with miniaturized reaction wells in customized volumes and formats. This format allows 200 microplate equivalents (about 76,800 reaction wells) to be spooled onto a single, compact reel, making it an automated, adaptable microplate replacement for high-throughput screening, according to the company.

Douglas Scientific also designs and manufactures a full line of laboratory instrumentation, including Nexar and Araya, to optimize dispensing and scanning in the Array Tape wells.

Array Tape is "essentially a very high-throughput solution … [for] industrial genotyping," Darren Cook, Douglas Scientific's vice president of strategy and business development, told PCR Insider. "And that really is one of the sweet spots for the technology. As such, our number one market to date has been agricultural biotech, with very large players and even emerging players in that market screening seed samples for the purposes of molecular-assisted breeding approaches and technology."

Cook said that since Array Tape's introduction, customers have adopted the platform primarily due to its throughput and cost benefits. "Instead of processing a 5-microliter, 10-microliter, or larger PCR assay, we're allowing them to support a 1.4-, 1.6-, [or] 1.8-microliter assay in a low-cost consumable that is essentially optimized … from when your assays are ready to go and your sample is ready to be processed. You just feed the instrument and it takes it from there."

On a small scale, those kinds of savings are nominal, Cook noted. However, in industrial-scale screening applications, "those numbers add up very quickly."

Array Tape has always been agnostic in terms of assay type, Cook said, with Life Tech's TaqMan SNP genotyping assays being a popular choice. He said that customers have also used KBiosciences' KASP assays, a system based on competitive allele-specific PCR and homogneous Förster resonance energy transfer, or FRET; and Hologic's Third Wave Invader chemistry, a homogeneous, isothermal, DNA probe-based system that amplifies a target-specific signal but not the target itself.

The partnership with Life Tech will bring to customers "an optimized and more streamlined solution" for customers using TaqMan assays, Cook said.

"A lot of the larger corporations we deal with have the resources … to do that themselves, the informatics capability, et cetera; whereas a lot of the new and emerging market clients, and folks that are maybe not used to processing at this kind of rate of speed — we’ll be able to deliver to them optimized assays; optimized settings for their instruments; with all the dispensing already dialed in; the thermal cycling protocols for the PCR process … and also detection settings optimized," he added.

Life Tech offers custom TaqMan SNP genotyping assays for any species of interest, according to the company. The TaqMan portfolio also includes 4.5 million pre-designed TaqMan SNP genotyping assays ideally suited for biomarker screening applications and confirmatory studies following next-generation sequencing experiments. They are designed to accurately detect and quantify genetic variations in DNA samples associated with particular phenotypes of interest, the company said.

"The Douglas Scientific Array Tape system complements our TaqMan SNP genotyping assays with a very high-throughput, automated, and flexible instrument platform," Allen Nguyen, associate director of business development in Life Tech's Genetic Analysis division, wrote in an e-mail to PCR Insider.

"The agricultural biotech market is an initial area of focus for us," Nguyen added. "In the ag bio molecular breeding market the combination of TaqMan assay chemistry and Array Tape platform offers researchers a best-in-class combination of data quality and automated high-throughput processing while maximizing cost and reagent utilization efficiencies. This helps ag bio researchers achieve their goals of doing progressively more genotyping to develop and select preferred traits in their crops while maximizing their budget and resources."

The deal could also give Life Tech a leg up on one of another emerging competitor in this space, Fluidigm, whose BioMark HD microfluidics-based platform offers some of the same cost and throughput advantages as Array Tape. In February, following release of the company's fourth-quarter 2011 financial results, Fluidigm noted that the company for the first time exceeded $4 million in chip sales in a quarter, driven primarily by SNP genotyping applications in agricultural biology and human genetics (PCR Insider, 2/16/2012). Fluidigm has also seen modest growth in sales for its own line of SNP genotyping assays, which the company launched last year to help drive additional sales of BioMark, and vice-versa.

Both Douglas Scientific and Life Tech envision their collaboration opening up additional markets beyond ag bio.

"This model should extend to any customer with the need to [analyze] potentially millions of genotypes per year with very high efficiency and data quality," Life Tech's Nguyen said. "Optimizing TaqMan chemistry and protocols on the Array Tape system would give customers an innovative and ready-to-use solution to address their challenges in the high-throughput genotyping space."

Meantime, Douglas Scientific's Cook noted that "certainly there's the expansion and optimization approach for the markets we're already playing in. But as you look at the opportunity for expansion into veterinary, food safety, even some human research markets — there is certainly a lot of opportunity there for what I'll call reciprocal introduction [of products], working together with Life Technologies and their assay solutions to deliver a high-throughput solution and cost savings to clients."

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