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Qiagen to Exclusively Distribute Single-Cell Analysis Tech From Startup Cell Microsystems


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Qiagen disclosed this week along with its second quarter earnings, that it has partnered with biotechnology startup Cell Microsystems to exclusively commercialize that firm's CellRaft Array, a technology for isolating and analyzing single cells.

With the deal, Qiagen believes it has gained access to a relatively simple and inexpensive technology to bolster its offerings in the growing single-cell molecular biology market, in particular single-cell sequencing.

"Single-cell sequencing … has become one of the most rapidly growing segments in the NGS market," Divya Pratheek, associate global product manager, instruments marketing at Qiagen, told GenomeWeb in an email. "The CellRaft Array technology addresses the needs of scientists in cancer research, immunology, neurobiology, developmental [biology], and stem-cell biology who need an easy and cost-effective method to isolate and separate viable single cells from a variety of samples."

Cell Microsystems, a University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill spinout that is based in Research Triangle Park, was founded based on work conducted in the laboratory of UNC researcher and company co-founder Nancy Allbritton.

According to the company's website, the CellRaft System is composed of 12,000 (200-by-200 micron) or 44,000 (100-by-100 micron) individual rafts called CellRafts.

Each CellRaft is held securely within a micron-scale well of the CellRaft Array. The CellRaft release device is mounted onto the objective of a common inverted lab microscope to allow use of the consumable arrays. Within the array, the rafts serve as releasable culture sites for individual cells or colonies.

Once cells are plated on the CellRaft Array, they settle into and attach to the rafts within the microwells. Single cells can then be selected from specific rafts and isolated for analysis in standard 96-well plates or PCR tubes, or expanded into clonal colonies. The analysis can take place at single or multiple time points, according to the company, which also claims that it has achieved single-cell cloning efficiencies of greater than 95 percent with 100 percent purity.

"The simplicity and effectiveness of the CellRaft Array technology make it a highly attractive alternative to traditional single-cell isolation approaches, which usually require a lot of manpower and significant investments in instruments," Qiagen's Pratheek noted.

Once cells are isolated, they can be analyzed with any number of downstream molecular analysis technologies. This is where Qiagen sees synergy with its products.

"The CellRaft Array technology fits well into our existing 'sample-to-insight' portfolio of universal products for NGS applications," Pratheek said. "It seamlessly integrates with the highly efficient REPLI-g single-cell whole-genome and whole-transcriptome amplification technologies as well as GeneRead NGS library construction kits from Qiagen to establish a simple and cost-effective single-cell sequencing workflow that can be easily accessed by each laboratory."

Financial terms of the agreement between Cell Microsystems and Qiagen were not disclosed, and Cell Microsystems did not return a phone call seeking comment on the agreement.

Qiagen's global marketing reach will undoubtedly help accelerate market uptake of CellRaft, but according to Cell Microsystems' website, it has already achieved modest market penetration through an early-access program that counts among its participants Nicholas Navin of the University of Texas-MD Anderson Cancer Center.

By adding the product to its portfolio, it would appear that Qiagen is taking closer aim at a single-cell biology market largely established and propagated by Fluidigm, which has its own automated single-cell sample prep system called the C1, as well as a number of downstream products for molecular analysis of those cells. By last year, it appeared that single-cell genomics — and specifically single-cell sequencing — had reached a tipping point, as market research firm DeciBio predicted that the market as a whole would more than triple by the end of this year and grow to $300 million by 2018.

As such, other companies including WaferGen Biosystems, Cellular Research, and NanoString and Becton-Dickinson have also quickly jumped into the game. And in December, the National Institutes of Health announced that it had awarded $7.9 million in grants in 2014 to 25 research teams studying single-cell biology.