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Dharmacon, GE Finalizing Deal Marrying RNAi with Screening Technology

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BOSTON — Dharmacon and GE Healthcare are in the final stages of hammering out a deal that could see Dharmacon's siRNA products marketed in combination with GE Healthcare's high-content screening technology, RNAi News has learned.

While the exact timing of the deal is unclear, Robert Graves, a GE senior scientist for bioassays support, said the companies might be ready to launch a product for cell cycle analysis as soon as in the "next few weeks." He spoke with RNAi News at the Cambridge Healthtech Institute's RNAi for Pathway Analysis meeting, held here this week.

If finalized, the deal would be the second marketing alliance for the companies since last November, when GE became the exclusive distributor of Dharmacon's RNAi research products in Japan.

According to Bill Marshall, executive vice president of research and operations and Dharmacon site manager, the companies have been working together to examine the efficacy of using Dharmacon's siRNAs to target genes involved in the cell cycle in combination with GE's G1/S and G2M cell cycle phase marker assays. Results are analyzed using GE's In-Cell confocal microscopy instrumentation and algorithms.

Aside from using single and pooled siRNA sets, the companies have also conducted experiments using Dharmacon's reverse-transfection format, which comprises collections of siRNAs, as well as positive and negative controls, dehydrated onto 96-well plates, along with delivery vehicles and protocols for use, Marshall noted.

"It's a conjunction of both the stable cell line products that we've been developing" and RNAi products from Dharmacon, Graves told RNAi News on the sidelines of the conference. "This type of biology is going to be very useful for basic research into cell cycle analysis and characterization of gene products, but possibly equally [in] drug discovery for cell cycle-related targets."

Marshall said that the most common application for the cell cycle phase marker assays and corresponding siRNAs is in studying cancer biology, but added that "Dharmacon is very interested in broadening applications in cancer biology and across other therapeutic areas by using siRNAs targeted against other collections of genes and the whole human genome."

Marshall said that the data from Dharmacon and GE's experiments thus far has been positive, and has been presented at a number of scientific meetings as a way to demonstrate to the scientific community what can be done with the two companies' technologies. He characterized the work as "a teaching exercise," and said that results have been obtained with "very high reproducibility."

GE and Dharmacon are "getting the … outcomes that you'd expect to see," he said.

Marshall confirmed that Dharmacon and GE are in discussions about a partnership to market the technology on which they've been collaborating, but he declined to provide additional details because the companies are "working through commercial terms."

Graves referred questions about the collaboration to GE officials, who could not be reached by press time.

Marshall also declined to comment directly on whether an ongoing lawsuit with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over the ownership of the company's reverse-transfection technology, first reported by RNAi News (see RNAi News, 2/11/2005), would impact the commercialization of any products with GE.

He noted that Dharmacon is "focused on coming to a fair resolution" of the lawsuit.

— Doug Macron ([email protected])

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