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Schott Across the Bow — New Nitrocellulose Slides to Challenge Whatman’s Dominance

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Schott and the Sartorius Stedim Biotech Group this week launched a line of nitrocellulose protein microarray slides in a direct challenge to Whatman’s dominance in the market.
 
The slides were introduced at the IBC 2007 Discovery2Diagnostics conference in Philadelphia and could be a signal that the sleepy protein microarray industry is heating up.
 
Schott is releasing four nitrocellulose-coated slides in either single-pad or 16-pad formats. The single-pad slides come in either white or dark grey nitrocellulose with each pad 21 by 51 millimeters. Each comes with a code 128 label barcode.
 
The 16-pad slides also come in white or dark grey nitrocellulose slides and each pad is 6 by 6 millimeters.
 
The introduction marks Schott’s first entry into an area dominated by Whatman. According to Schott’s internal research, nitrocellulose slides represent a $10 million market. And of that, Whatman currently has a 70 percent to 80 percent share, said Alistair Rees, microarray product manager for Schott. Other players in the space include GenTel BioSciences and Grace Bio-Labs.
 
Based in Mainz, Germany, Schott is marketing its slides as an improvement over Whatman’s due to their ability to reduce noise. In particular, the dark grey slides — based on technology developed by Schott’s partner Sartorius — offer a significant improvement in background noise over Whatman’s slides, Schott said.
 
According to product literature from Schott, the amount of background noise from its dark grey slides is less than 10 percent of the noise from Whatman’s slides. Noise from Schott’s white slides is just over half of that from Whatman’s slides.
 
Noise is a formidable challenge for protein microarrays. During a typical experiment, after a sample is put on a slide, it is put into a laser scanner to detect proteins on the slide surface. But because the slides are made of a fibrous material, the light scatters and reflects within the fibers, resulting in high background fluorescence.
 
“The customers are trying to detect the signals from a label protein, and if you’re getting a lot of background signal from the slide itself, it obviously reduces the quality of the data,” Rees said. “Adding this black pigment within the nitrocellulose matrix absorbs the light, which means that the background signal from the slide is [significantly lower].”
 
Whatman did not respond to requests seeking comment.
 
In proteomics, use of protein arrays is still comparatively scant and there is some skepticism about their utility. Daniel Liebler at Vanderbilt University, for instance, has questioned the reliability of data from protein arrays [See PM 04/05/07].
 
However, the industry overall has shown some movement during the past year. Earlier this year, an Invitrogen spokesman told sister publication BioArray News that pharmaceutical and biotech firms have increasingly shown greater interest in using the company’s ProteoArray product [See BAN 03/27/07].
 

“Up to probably a year or two ago, virtually all our customers were academic, either universities or research centers. But certainly [during] the past 12, 18 months, we’ve had a lot of new industrial customers who are buying slides to put content on them and selling them either to the academic market for R&D or to a clinical market.”

In March, George Mason University researchers, Lance Liotta and Emanuel Petricoin, launched a new company, Theranostics Health, that is built around a protein microarray technology they said allows scientists to analyze the activity of proteins in tissue samples [See PM 03/29/07]. 
 
And Whatman is in the process of evaluating the US market for its CombiChip, a diagnostic chip for autoimmune diseases. The product received the CE Mark late last year [See PM 10/05/06].
 
‘Significant’ Growth in Clinical Market
 
While the $10 million market for nitrocellulose slides may seem modest, Rees said that Schott believes the growth potential for the product is “significant,” as a whole new sector is starting to use the slides.
 
“Up to probably a year or two ago, virtually all our customers were academic, either universities or research centers,” he said. “But certainly [during] the past 12, 18 months, we’ve had a lot of new industrial customers who are buying slides to put content on them and selling them either to the academic market for R&D or to a clinical market.
 
“The market is at the stage where it’s moving from research labs into clinical labs,” he said.
 
Schott’s slides can be used for a broad array of applications including protein binder arrays, activity screening, and biomarker profiling in protein-related research. They also have applications in antibody and glycan research.
 
During the first quarter of 2008, the company plans to introduce 2-pad and 8-pad nitrocellulose slides. Unlike Whatman and other companies in the field, though, Schott does not plan to market slides with content on them.
 
“We’ve got no intention of going into that market. We’re just concentrating on the slides that are provided to either academic customers or industrial companies, and they put together the content,” Rees said.

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