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GE Healthcare, Dharmacon Partnership in Research Stage Despite Delays, MIT Suit

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The fate of a deal between GE Healthcare and Dharmacon that would see the commercialization of a cell cycle-analysis product combining their respective technologies appears to be uncertain, according to representatives from both companies.

In May, the product had reportedly been a few weeks away from market launch, but now it is unclear when any kind of commercial partnership might be formalized.

Reached by telephone this week, a GE spokesperson said that the alliance is "still in the research stage," adding that "there's nothing commercialized or going to be launched in the next couple of weeks. It's not a commercial venture yet."

Robert Graves, a GE senior scientist for bioassays support, noted during a presentation at the May Cambridge Healthtech Institute's RNAi for Pathway Analysis meeting in Boston that the companies were investigating the potential to combine Dharmacon's siRNA products marketed with GE Healthcare's high-content screening technology (see RNAi News, 5/20/2005).


Robert Graves, a GE senior scientist for bioassays support, "was probably being a little aggressive in terms of how quickly we could move on closing on things. We're just trying to sort out final commercial terms, and that always takes longer than you'd like it to."

Specifically, the partners were 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 were then analyzed using GE's In-Cell confocal microscopy instrumentation and algorithm.

The partners have also conducted experiments using Dharmacon's reverse-transfection format, which comprises collections of siRNAs and positive and negative controls dehydrated onto 96-well plates, along with delivery vehicles and protocols for use, Bill Marshall, executive vice president of research and operations and Dharmacon site manager, told RNAi News in May.

Marshall also confirmed that the companies were in talks to commercialize the technology on which they were working.

Graves noted during his CHI talk that the companies were expected to have a product for cell cycle analysis ready for market launch as soon as in "the next few weeks." But as of this week, a formalized commercial arrangement between GE and Dharmacon has not materialized, raising questions about the hold up.

Marshall told RNAi News this week that "any sort of business relationship [between Dharmacon and GE] is still basically under negotiation. We continue to come to terms on an agreement," he added.

In regards to the timeline provided by Graves in May, Marshall said that the senior scientist "was probably being a little aggressive in terms of how quickly we could move on closing on things. We're just trying to sort out final commercial terms, and that always takes longer than you'd like it to."

Marshall declined to provide a new, specific timeline on when a deal might be completed, but said that "we're quite close. There're a couple of final details and experimental things we need to close on," he said, adding that "the issue at this point is figuring out the commercial terms."

A spokesperson for GE, however, told RNAi News this week that GE's and Dharmacon's efforts to combine their technologies are "still in the research stage. There's nothing commercialized or going to be launched in the next couple of weeks. It's not a commercial venture yet," the spokesperson noted.

In response to Marshall's comments that a deal between the companies were close to formalizing a commercial arrangement, the spokesperson said, "I can't vouch for what Bill said. As far as I know, we're still in the same position we were a

month ago. When we are ready to announce [a deal], you'd know.

— Doug Macron ([email protected])

Will MIT's Patent-Infringement Suit Against Dharmacon Affect GE Deal?

A wild-card in the evolving alliance between GE Healthcare and Dharmacon is a patent-infringement suit filed against Dharmacon by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Early this year, the university sued the company charging, in part, that it infringed an MIT-controlled US patent covering reverse-transfection technology. The charge was filed as an amendment to an earlier breach-of-contract suit.

The patent, No. 6,544,790, had been licensed to Akceli, which was collaborating with Dharmacon on an RNAi-based reverse-transfection platform before going out of business. Despite the end of the partnership, Dharmacon forged ahead and recently introduced a number of reverse-transfection products.

Bill Marshall, Dharmacon executive vice president of research and operations and site manager, stressed that the MIT patent does not affect Dharmacon's own reverse-transfection technology, referring to court filings from the company which assert that MIT tacked on its patent infringement claims to its lawsuit simply to "intimidate" the company, and as such has not factored into any business negotiations with GE.

Asked whether GE is concerned that it might be open to possible litigation if it commercialized a product using Dharmacon's reverse-transfection technology, Marshall said, "not to my knowledge."

A GE spokesperson was not aware of the MIT lawsuit.

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