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Life Tech PCR License Enables Bar Harbor Biotech to Provide Contract Research Offering


By Ben Butkus

Bar Harbor Biotechnology said this week that it has licensed PCR and real-time PCR patents from Life Technologies in order to provide newly established contract PCR research services to its customers.

Under the agreement, BHB's customers would purchase the company's StellARray and XenoQ plate-based PCR kits, both of which are sold through BHB's exclusive distributor Lonza.

Customers would then be able to contract BHB to perform the real-time experiments, collect data, and analyze the results using its GeneSieve bioinformatics package and Global Pattern Recognition algorithms.

BHB, founded in 2006, is betting that the new service offering will generate both new revenues and additional sales of the StellARray and XenoQ kits, BHB President and CEO Robert Phelps told PCR Insider this week.

"As we entered the market with these products, lots of labs wanted to use them but maybe didn't have the personnel, expertise, or capital equipment," Phelps said. "We heard a groundswell of demand for contract services, particularly from smaller academic labs."

BHB had already negotiated a licensing agreement with Life Technologies for its PCR and real-time PCR patent portfolio, the cost of which was incorporated into the cost of its PCR kits and passed on to direct sales customers.

"We were essentially providing primer design for specific genes or pathways, and providing arrays and master mix kits to our customers through Lonza," Phelps said. "Now, we are actually performing the PCR reactions, and that's why we needed the license."

StellARay and XenoQ both combine quantitative, real-time PCR with SYBR Green I probes. StellARray consists of 96- or 384-well plates, with each well containing gene-specific PCR primer pairs culled from BHB's proprietary database of more than 4.8 million primers.

Each primer pair is designed to detect both RNA (as cDNA) and genomic DNA in separate assays, allowing users to measure gene expression or genomic DNA copy-number changes.

Meantime, the XenoQ Assays are designed to detect human tumor xenografts in mice and to identify gene expression changes that are crucial to malignant transformation, invasion, and metastasis. These assays, which are targeted toward the drug-discovery community, detect gene expression in a minimal amount of human tumor cells that are circulating in the mouse bloodstream without interference from mouse cell gene expression, according to the company.

Performing either assay for the first time can be "problematic" for some customers, Phelps said; hence the contract research offering.

"It's that energy step that customers need to get over," Phelps said. "We're hoping that this will spur sales of StellARray and XenoQ. Our Lonza sales reps have already had customers coming to them asking about services, and we've already sent out some quotes."

Phelps added that BHB recently increased its staff to perform the contract research, and anticipates adding staff in response to future demand. The company currently employs more than 10 people, and has doubled its staff in the past two years.

Meantime, for Life Tech, the agreement with BHB is an example of recent renewed efforts by the company to outlicense key pieces of the enormous intellectual property estate that was created when Invitrogen merged with Applied Biosystems to create Life Tech, Vicki Singer, Life Tech's global head of outlicensing, told PCR Insider this week.

"Our new strategy has been around outlicensing and OEM in general," Singer said. "If you look at the merger of Applied Biosystems and Invitrogen, a huge patent portfolio was created, a lot of which wasn't being fully leveraged through products.

In particular, Life Tech has focused on offsetting declining royalty revenues for its PCR-related intellectual property estate by upping its outlicensing activity in that area.

Singer said that the company's recently renewed outlicensing efforts included reviewing and more fully leveraging its IP portfolio than in the past; using the breadth of the Life Tech business to provide more complete solutions to its customers; and focusing more on applied markets, particularly diagnostics and bioproduction.

The deal with BHB was "in some ways an example of business as usual" for Life Tech, but also an example of its renewed efforts.

Financial details of the licensing agreement with BHB were not disclosed, although Phelps noted that Life Technologies "made the licensing process very easy" and straightforward, with some money paid up front and quarterly payments based on the company's contract research business activities.