As the microRNA field continues to garner attention from both academia and industry, Invitrogen said this week that it will toss its hat into the ring next month with the introduction of the NCode miRNA microarray platform.
According to Invitrogen, the NCode will allow researchers to profile all known miRNAs from humans, mouse, rat, Drosophila, C. elegans, and zebrafish, as well as additional predicted human miRNAs.
"NCode is going to be a series of products that allow you to analyze and manipulate microRNAs," Peter Welch, director of research and development in gene regulation at Invitrogen, told RNAi News this week. "The first launch, which we have scheduled for December, will be a microarray chip that has somewhere between 900 and 1,000 unique microRNAs. They've all been validated â€¦ [which means] the microRNA has actually been isolated from a cell, and sequenced and cloned, and it actually does exist."
The chips can be used to profile the miRNA expression patterns associated with a particular disease or developmental state, Invitrogen said.
According to Welch, the NCode launch marks Invitrogen's first significant step into the miRNA market. "MicroRNAs are causing a lot of stir out there -- it's been proposed that they are controlling over 30 percent of the human genome, and the numbers of predicted microRNAs are going up daily," he said. "We definitely see it as a whole area of gene regulation that is untapped so far, [and since] Invitrogen is known for a lot of its gene-regulation type products so this was a natural place for us to play in."
"MicroRNAs are causing a lot of stir out there -- it's been proposed that they are controlling over 30 percent of the human genome, and the numbers of predicted microRNAs are going up daily. We definitely see it as a whole area of gene regulation that is untapped so far, [and since] Invitrogen is known for a lot of its gene-regulation type products, so this was a natural place for us to play in."
The miRNA microarray market "is going to be a growing field, and it's something that we're all very interested in, given our interest in some of the side areas like stem cells and tumor progression and things like that where microRNAs are going to be very important."
As the miRNA field grows, Welch said that Invitrogen expects to conduct its own bioinformatics work to "see if we can't predict additional microRNAs. We also have some work going on internally just cloning them to see what other ones we can pull out." Additionally, the company has a purification module, which is currently available but will also be sold with the NCode platform, "that allows you to purify small RNAs to make cloning [miRNAs] much easier."
In looking to gain a foothold in the nascent miRNA expression analysis market, Invitrogen will have to contend with a pair of competitors that have already entered the field.
Ambion recently released a line of miRNA microarrays, called mirVana, which include probes targeting a selection of human, mouse, and rat miRNAs. The microarrays are being manufactured by GE Healthcare using its CodeLink microarray technology under a deal announced in late September.
While the mirVana arrays cover the key miRNAs widely available through the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute's miRBase, their biggest appeal stems from a exclusive deal Ambion signed in September, picking up access to unpublished miRNA sequences identified by Rosetta Genomics (see RNAi News, 9/16/2005).
Rosetta's Chairman and CEO Isaac Bentwich told RNAi News earlier this month that he expects the company's broad intellectual property estate will give it ownership of between 50 percent and 80 percent of all human miRNAs. Without a license to use these miRNAs in its microarrays, Invitrogen may find itself shut out of a significant portion of the market -- assuming that Rosetta's IP is granted and upheld if challenged.
Welch declined to comment specifically on how Invitrogen might deal with potential IP roadblocks the company might run into on the miRNA front, but said that "we're really careful about what's already been patented or not." Using the company's ORF collection as an analogy, he noted that "if there's a patent out there that somebody owns and they contact us and say, 'This is one of our genes,' we take it out of our collection."
Invitrogen is also facing competition from Applied Biosystems, which in September introduced its TaqMan miRNA assays, which are designed to detect and quantify mature human miRNA expression levels.
Although ABI's assays are limited to human miRNAs, the company got a boost by getting them into the hands of Dartmouth University's Victor Ambros, a pioneer in the miRNA field who used the assays under an early-access program to track miRNA expression changes in brain cancer.
As reported by RNAi News in May, Ambros said he used the TaqMan miRNA assays to "profile all the known human microRNAs in about a half dozen cell lines and brain tumor samples to determine [if there are] any consistent differences in the patterns of the microRNAs amongst those tumors and cell lines (see RNAi News, 5/20/2005).
-- Doug Macron ([email protected])