By Ben Butkus
Qiagen this week expanded its molecular diagnostics footprint by announcing its plans to acquire an undisclosed minority stake in Alacris Theranostics, a German startup company using bioinformatics to cull patients' genomic data for biomarkers that can be used to personalize cancer treatments.
Qiagen's investment gives it an exclusive option to license all biomarkers identified by Alacris — biomarkers that Qiagen can then develop into PCR-based assays for use in molecular diagnostic and theranostic applications or biomedical research, the company said.
As such, the strategic investment also dovetails with Qiagen's $90 million acquisition of SABiosciences in December 2009, Qiagen spokesperson Thomas Theuringer told PCR Insider.
Alacris' bioinformatics modeling system, called ModCell, can be used "to make predictions about the responsiveness to certain drugs based on data that comes from patients' clinical samples that have been sequenced — and it doesn't matter if it's next-gen, Sanger sequencing, or whatever," Theuringer said.
"This is very complementary to the SABiosciences franchise," which Qiagen has been using over the last year to develop disease- and pathway-focused PCR assay panels, Theuringer added. "We can use these biomarkers now to design and commercialize additional PCR-based assay panels."
Terms of the agreement also call for Alacris to participate in commercialization of any biomarkers through royalty fees paid by Qiagen. Theuringer noted that Qiagen's access to Alacris' biomarker IP means that it can outlicense promising biomarkers to other companies if it chooses not to use them to develop its own molecular assays.
Any assay panels developed by Qiagen and Alacris would be intended for use on QIAsymphony RGQ, an automated, fully integrated platform for molecular diagnostic testing and development that the company launched in September (PCR Insider, 9/1/10). QIASymphony RGQ comprises the QIASymphony SP for sample preparation, QIASymphony AS for assay setup, and Rotor-Gene Q real-time PCR thermal cycler.
In a statement, Qiagen CEO Peer Schatz said that Alacris' "genome-driven approach" complements Qiagen's strategy because it facilitates a clinically relevant selection of molecular targets from vast amounts of genetic and clinical data.
"Qiagen intends to develop such molecular targets into assays for our QIAsymphony platform to personalize treatments and improve outcomes for patients," Schatz said, adding that the strategic investment "expands Qiagen's existing broad biomarker discovery and validation initiatives and is designed to expand our QIAsymphony-based personalized healthcare and pharma development assay portfolio."
Theuringer further explained how Qiagen could use the assay panels as part of its Therascreen molecular diagnostics portfolio.
"Therascreen is our personalized healthcare product line, which encompasses our assays for KRAS, EGFR, and other biomarkers associated with the response to certain drugs," Theuringer said. "These are real-time PCR assays that we have acquired and continue to develop. So it's not only one target that you look out for, but a number of targets associated with a certain diseases, which is also very useful in preclinical development and biomedical research."
Alacris was founded by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin and Harvard Medical School. Its proprietary modeling system was developed at MPI-MG and is exclusively licensed to Alacris, which uses it to analyze clinical sequencing data.
The company has already begun testing its method as part of an international research project called Treat 1000, a public-private research consortium that includes MPI-MG, Harvard Medical School, Alacris, Charité University Hospital cancer center in Berlin, and CollabRx. Started in early 2009, Treat 1000 aims to sequence the genomes and transcriptomes of 1,000 cancer patients to make personalized treatment recommendations (see PCR Insider sister newsletter In Sequence, 3/3/2009).
In March, Qiagen's SABiosciences subsidiary announced it would partner with Fluidigm to offer more than 100 SABiosciences pathway-focused gene expression panels validated for real-time PCR analysis on Fluidigm's Dynamic Array chips and BioMark analyzer (PCR Insider, 3/24/10). It is unclear whether new PCR assay panels developed using biomarkers discovered by Alacris could also feed into the Fluidigm collaboration.
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