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Akonni Biosystems Licenses USAMRIID IP to Develop Molecular Tests for Biothreat Agents


This article, originally published on Feb. 9, has been updated from a previous version to include comments from Akonni regarding its TruArray and TruSentry platforms.

By Ben Butkus

Akonni Biosystems said today that it has inked a licensing agreement with the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases to develop multiplexed molecular diagnostic tests for biological threat agents.

The agreement provides Akonni access to nucleic acid sequences, primers, and probes for several important biothreat agents that are the subject of patents owned or licensed by USAMRIID and its affiliates.

The deal also marks Akonni's foray beyond the infectious disease testing market and into the biodefense and biosecurity space, the company said.

Specifically, the licensing agreement covers nucleic acid sequences, primers, and probes that will serve as the basis for multiplexed molecular tests for Bacillus anthracis, vaccinia/orthopox virus, Yersinia pestis, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus.

The intellectual property will allow Akonni to more rapidly commercialize a family of "highly multiplexed tests" for research and in vitro diagnostic applications for global biosecurity, the company said.

Akonni will incorporate the licensed content into two technology platforms. First, it will develop molecular tests for the biothreat agents using its TruArray platform, which also incorporates the company's TruTip kits for ultra-rapid DNA and RNA extraction and TruDx 2000 optical detection instrument.

Akonni said that these tests are targeted for availability in 2012, and will be field-deployable via a mobile laboratory or field trailer.

Meantime, the company said it also plans to port the USAMRIID content to its recently announced ultra-high-throughput screening platform, TruSentry, which incorporates Tecan's Freedom EVO 200 liquid handling system, as well as TruTip and TruArray for gel-drop-based microarray hybridization detection. Earlier this month Akonni announced the availability of TruSentry to early-access customers (PCR Insider, 2/3/2011).

At the core of both of Akonni's platforms is its TruDrop technology, which describes a low-density microarray of immobilized three-dimensional 100-by-20-micron drops containing all probes and chemistry necessary for a PCR reaction. The company's TruTip technology uses a nucleic acid-binding matrix in a pipette tip to extract and purify inhibitor-free DNA or RNA for downstream PCR applications in as few as four minutes, according to the company.

In an e-mail to PCR Insider, Kevin Banks, Akonni's vice president of sales and marketing, said that for the TruArray platform, Akonni performs a multiplex PCR and then adds the amplified material to gel-drop arrays for hybridization and detection.

"The process is the same as for our TruSentry platform," Banks said. "The difference is that for [TruArray], we print a single array on a single glass slide." This is ideal for labs that are working with up to 24 samples per shift and prefer low-cost instrumentation under $20,000, he added.

For TruSentry, on the other hand, "we print our gel-drop arrays in the bottom of 96- or 384-well plates," Banks said. "We then leverage the power of Tecan’s EVO 200 liquid handling workstation ... to process up to 384 unique samples at a time, and for each sample we look for a multiplex of markers. The advantage of the TruSentry system is higher throughput and a lower price per test, which makes it ideal for large-scale screening projects."

Akonni said that TruSentry can test for tens to hundreds of diseases simultaneously and process up to 3,000 samples per day.

Both the TruArray gel-drop PCR arrays and the TruSentry gel-drop microarray platform are expected to increase the speed and decrease the cost of detecting some of the most important biothreat agents from either clinical or environmental samples, Akonni said.

"We are excited to partner with USAMRIID on developing a series of low-cost, multiplex testing products to protect our war fighters, first responders, and citizens from many of the most dangerous biothreat agents known to man," Akonni CEO Charles Daitch said in a statement.

It is unclear whether Akonni's licensing agreement with USAMRIID is exclusive. Financial and other terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Akonni, based in Frederick, Md., is also developing infectious disease molecular diagnostics for its TruArray and TruSentry platforms, including tests for multi-drug-resistant and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, antiviral-resistant influenza, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (PCR Insider, 9/30/2010).

Have topics you'd like to see covered in PCR Insider? Contact the editor at bbutkus [at] genomeweb [.] com.