Aushon Biosystems has partnered with Chinese drug development company LightArray Biotech to offer its multiplex immunoassay products and services to the Chinese market.
Through the partnership, Aushon aims to support China-based drug trials for several of its global pharmaceutical clients as well as take advantage of what it expects will be increasing demand for its products from the country's domestic biotech firms and research organizations, CEO Pete Honkanen told ProteoMonitor.
The collaboration's most immediate purpose is enabling Aushon to provide its protein array products and services to its pharma clients running drug trials in China. Because the Chinese government doesn't permit companies running trials there to send samples from the trials abroad, any sample processing needed must be done in the country.
"So, by default you have to have a local presence there to be able to participate in that kind of work," Honkanen said. "We have quite a few global pharma customers, of which more than a couple are doing clinical trials in China. So one of the motivating factors for working with LightArray was to get our platform into China so we could satisfy the demands of our global pharma customers."
He declined to name any of the pharma clients the company will be working with in China but noted that they were "among the top five" global firms.
Aushon, based in Billerica, Mass., also sees the partnership as a route to expanding its presence in the growing Chinese market, Honkanen said. In particular, he noted, academic scientists and biotech companies in the country are putting considerable work into developing diagnostic biomarker panels for various cancers – an area of research that matches up well with Aushon's immunoassay products and services.
LightArray CEO Alan Zhang, agreed, saying in an e-mail to ProteoMonitor that oncology is currently the biggest area of biomarker research in China. He noted that, according to his company's market research, more than 10 million people in China have undergone testing for various forms of cancer in each of the last five years, and new cancer cases are increasing at a rate of 2 million per year.
"The demand for biomarker services has increased a lot in the past decade – particularly from hospitals and pharmaceutical companies," Zhang said. "As the population of China is very large, the requirements for clinical diagnostics are [also] very large."
In addition to oncology, epidemic diseases are an area of great concern to the Chinese government, he said, and could also "be a huge market for clinical diagnostics and drug development [research] in the future."
The collaboration has been in the works for about a year, much of which was spent bringing LightArray up to speed on using Aushon's technology, Honkanen said. LightArray, in fact, built a new service lab at its Wuxi, China, location to house the Aushon-related services.
"They have access to all our equipment, our imaging system; they've been trained by our scientists and technicians," he said. "We can guarantee the reliability of what they are doing and the accuracy and the performance just as if we were doing it here."
Finding a Chinese partner with the capabilities needed to run Aushon's immunoassay platform was one of the key challenges of the process, he added.
"There aren't a lot of qualified candidates in China to go ahead and do that job," he said. "We worked with LightArray because of their willingness and enthusiasm to invest in and pursue the market in China for Aushon's technology and platform."
Such enthusiasm is particularly important, Honkanen said, given Aushon's desire to cultivate a Chinese customer base. The same rules on exporting samples that make drug trials in China a somewhat tricky issue also make it more difficult for foreign companies to promote their products to the country's researchers.
"In many cases you need to demonstrate the capabilities of the platform," he said, "especially [when selling] in a new geography. Because of the constraints of the Chinese market – not being able to send out samples – you can't really do that unless you have a lab there."
In addition to being a conduit through which Aushon can service its pharma clients, then, LightArray will also serve as a demonstration lab of sorts, giving China's scientists a look at Aushon's products and platform. The company will also handle sales of "equipment, software, and consumables in China for those who don't want to use the service but want to use [Aushon products] internally," Honkanen said.
Aushon is also pursuing relationships with several other biotech firms and research organizations in China, director of marketing Alan Poon told ProteoMonitor. Those discussions are still in the "preliminary" stages, he said, but the company expects to reach agreements with some of the parties next year.
Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed.
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