Sony DADC Biosciences, a business unit of Sony DADC that manufactures polymer-based consumables for in vitro diagnostic and biomedical research tool companies, this month opened its first US office in Cambridge, Mass.
The new outpost is expected to help Sony DADC Biosciences, whose primary manufacturing facilities are in Austria, to better service its growing contingent of US customers, including Boston-area firms RainDance Technologies, Quanterix, and PerkinElmer subsidiary Caliper Life Sciences, company officials said.
In addition, Sony DADC Biosciences will use its new location to continue to grow its life science consumables OEM business as it gears up for several new partnerships in the coming year, including in the areas of nucleic acid analysis, sample prep, and in vitro diagnostics, officials said.
Sony DADC, or Digital Audio Disc Corporation, is a technology and OEM provider for optical media primarily in the entertainment, education, and information industries. Although it is a subsidiary of consumer electronics giant Sony, it essentially operates as an independent company.
Around 2007 the company began to market its plastics manufacturing expertise to the life sciences research sector and also began a more aggressive push into the US, Ali Tinazli, director of business development and sales for Sony DADC Biosciences in North America, told PCR Insider this week.
"Being used to [providing] this OEM business, we started to apply the same OEM concept to the biomedical tools industry," Tinazli said. "It turns out that multiple business partners are in the US … and we identified Cambridge as a hot spot, because [the medical device] industry and innovation here is very strong. So we chose to establish a US subsidiary and office here [to] really increase our visibility."
Since the Biosciences unit started with about 10 employees, it has ratcheted that number up to approximately 100 worldwide, Tinazli said, and has amassed a customer portfolio of several molecular biology tool providers.
The end markets for Sony DADC's plastic consumables include nucleic acid analysis, sample prep, in vitro diagnostics, cellular analysis, and proteomics, but the commercial products generally all involve injection molded plastics, microfluidics, and/or optical components.
"Certainly our business is mainly polymer-based manufacturing, which means … micro- or nanoscale injection molding," Tinazli said. "But it's really a complete subset of processes, including coating, biofunctionalization … content loading; and we are also working on high-end optical devices."
One of Sony DADC Biosciences' earliest OEM agreements was with Caliper Life Sciences — now a subsidiary of PerkinElmer but at the time an independent company — to co-develop and manufacture polymer chips for gel-electrophoresis DNA analysis and DNA fragment isolation and analysis on Caliper's LabChip XT system.
In addition, last summer Sony DADC Biosciences and RainDance Technologies disclosed the completion of a two-year collaboration under which they co-developed and manufactured microdroplet-based consumable chips for various life sciences applications, including for use on RainDance's RDT 1000 platform for targeted resequencing (PCR Insider, 7/16/2011).
The companies also said at the time that they would continue the OEM agreement for the foreseeable future, and that Sony's chips could find their way onto digital PCR and possible diagnostic systems from RainDance.
Other biomedical research tool companies for which Sony manufactures components include Quanterix, whose single molecule array, or SiMoA, technology for detecting various biomolecules uses Sony discs (see PCR Insider sister newsletter BioArray News, 7/26/2011); Shimadzu, for whom Sony manufactures individually barcoded, disposable MALDI mass spec target kits; and Maven Biotechnologies, whose label-free internal reflection ellipsometry, or LFIRE, chips for cell-based assays and biomarker detection use Sony components.
Overall, Sony DADC Biosciences has agreements in place or is in discussion with some 20 companies, not all of which can be disclosed due to confidentiality agreements, Tinazli said.
"These are targeting different market segments with different players using different technologies, and are certainly all at different stages," he said.
Tinazli said that Sony DADC Biosciences expects in the coming year to announce several new partnerships, a number of which involve nucleic acid analysis, sample prep, and molecular and point-of-care diagnostics. "Some of these are emerging companies, and some are larger, more established corporations," he said.
"We are entertaining discussions and informal partnerships with instrumentation companies, because it's really important that companies communicate with each other to establish some kind of standard," Tinazli added. "For instance, personalized medicine has to be cost-effective. That's [an area] where we entertain discussions with instrumentation companies, in order to really work on highly [conformant] consumables at the best cost structure."
Tinazli stressed that because Sony DADC Biosciences operates essentially as an independent company, it makes clear to its potential partners that their work is completely confidential, and won't even be shared within Sony Corporation – the same tack the company has taken in its electronics and optical disc OEM agreements.
This is worth noting because Sony Corporation of America, the US subsidiary of Sony, is itself currently developing a point-of-care nucleic acid testing platform based on technologies acquired along with Redmond, Wash.-based Micronics in September (PCR Insider, 9/29/2011).
It is unclear whether Sony DADC will be involved with manufacturing consumables for the Sony Micronics platform. Both Tinazli and a Sony USA spokesperson declined to comment, although Tinazli noted that the two entities operate completely independently of one another.
For its part, Sony DADC has no interest in developing fully integrated instrumentation platforms, despite having some of the know-how to do so.
"I think if we did instruments, as well, our customers would then see us as competitors," Manfred Koranda, marketing manager for Sony DADC Biosciences in Austria, told PCR Insider.
Nevertheless, Sony DADC Biosciences is looking to expand its capabilities and offerings. "At the moment, most of our business is about plastic consumables, which is certainly our core expertise," Koranda said. "However, for the last couple of months we have realized that we can not only do consumables, but [other platform components] — for example, lenses. We do not want to be seen as restricted to the disposables life sciences market."