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Sony's Micronics Buy Could Catalyze Development of Point-of-Care Nucleic Acid Testing Platform


By Ben Butkus

Sony's acquisition of molecular diagnostic developer Micronics may serve to bolster the consumer electronics giant's own plans to commercialize a point-of-care nucleic acid testing platform, Sony officials said this week.

Through its US-based subsidiary Sony Corporation of America, Sony said yesterday that it has acquired Micronics, a privately held Redmond, Wash.-based company involved in developing point-of-care devices for disease diagnosis, treatment monitoring, and blood testing, for an undisclosed amount.

Founded in 1996 and leveraging a patent portfolio focused on the use of microfluidics to reduce sample and reagent volumes in molecular testing, Micronics' first product in clinical testing is an immunohematology test called ABORhCard.

However, the company also has in late-stage development a molecular diagnostic technology platform called PanNAT, which is a lightweight, portable, integrated testing platform that uses nucleic acid amplification as its core detection technology.

In October, Micronics received a $2.6 million grant from the US Department of Defense to develop molecular tests on the PanNAT system to directly detect hepatitis B and C and HIV from fresh blood samples in order to screen blood donated for transfusion on the battlefield (PCR Insider, 10/21/10).

At the time, Micronics President and CEO Karen Hedine also said that the company was developing tests for enterohemorrhagic E. coli, various respiratory infections, and mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Micronics has also non-exclusively licensed molecular beacons hybridization probe technology from PHRI Properties, the tech-transfer arm of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and has licensed the right to make, use, and sell products using Biosearch's Black Hole Quencher, CAL Fluor, and Quasar dye technologies.

A Sony Corporation of America spokesperson told PCR Insider that Sony acquired Micronics to "accelerate our R&D efforts" in the area of point-of-care diagnostic testing; "and also to be ready for the commercialization of diagnostic products."

However, the spokesperson added that the company "is not in a position at this time to give more details about our business plans."

Similarly, a spokesperson from Sony's Japanese headquarters in Tokyo said in an e-mail to PCR Insider that "Sony and Micronics will be jointly working on R&D and product plans," but that the company had "no concrete plan" to announce at this time.

"Sony hasn’t announced the development of point-of-care diagnostic platform products; however, as a basic research activity, Sony has published a paper … describing an application of nucleic acid amplification and detection," the spokesperson said.

That paper, entitled "Point-of-care testing system enabling 30-min detection of influenza genes" was published in February in Lab on a Chip. The paper demonstrated a prototype portable nucleic acid amplification testing system and demonstrated that its sensitivity was higher than currently available non-molecular diagnostic kits and comparable to real-time PCR influenza tests.

Also, earlier this month Sony was awarded US Patent No. 8,017,830 describing a real-time PCR system for detecting gene expression levels using multiple heating, reaction, and fluorescence-detection components (PCR Insider, 9/14/11). It is unclear whether or how that patent may tie into Sony's Micronics acquisition.

Although this acquisition is Sony's most overt move into the molecular diagnostics and biomedical research field so far, the company has made a few other forays into the space.

In June RainDance Technologies disclosed that it had been working with Sony DADC Austria to co-develop and manufacture microdroplet-based consumable chips for life science applications such as digital PCR (PCR Insider 6/16/11).

And in February 2010 Sony announced the acquisition of iCyt Mission Technologies, a producer of high-performance cell sorters for stem cell and disease research.

Micronics will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, and will continue to operate in Redmond under the current Micronics management team, headed by Hedine, Sony said.

"We at Micronics aim to make full use of Sony’s superior consumer-based technologies, product-development capabilities, and capacity to distribute products globally in the development of Micronics' products," Hedine said in a statement. "We believe that the powerful combination of Sony’s expertise with that of Micronics' will lend itself to a new generation of market-responsive diagnostic products."

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