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Where the hardware meets wetware
FARMINGDALE, N.Y.óWith the goal of providing research institutions and biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies with a cost-effective, high-performance platform for live cell analysis, Enzo Biochem Inc. and BioTek Instruments Inc. have entered into a co-marketing partnership that integrates instruments and reagent solutions.
The co-marketing agreement combines the state-of-the-art fluorescent labeling and detection capabilities of Enzo's Life Sciences subsidiary with BioTek's expertise in advanced liquid handling and fluorescence quantification, producing an efficient workflow in which both hardware and "wetware" work in concert to augment each other. The two teams will work closely together, with both groups simultaneously benchmarking the instrumentation and reagents in their respective laboratories. Enzo will develop the fluorescent assay technology, while BioTek will optimize their performance on the Synergy Mx instrument.
In the short term, the companies' goal is to provide a new paradigm for compound screening and optimization in GPCR-based drug discovery. Longer range, the Enzo-BioTek collaboration aims to provide a panel of fluorescence-based live cell assays optimized for advanced microplate-based analytical readouts. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
The partnership was both born and launched on the industry conference circuit. According to Dr. Wayne Patton, Enzo's chief scientific officer, the companies' first discussions occurred in April at the 2009 Society of Biomolecular Screening (SBS) meeting in Lille, France. BioTek scientists were presenting a poster on their Synergy Mx monochromator-based microplate reader, while Enzo scientists were presenting one on their new Lyso-ID Red fluorescent cell-based cytotoxicity assay.
"We both appreciated that merging novel cell-based assays with a high-performance microplate reader would provide a powerful combination of attributes for customers interested in drug discovery and cytotoxicity screening," Patton says.
The collaboration was formally launched in mid-October at MipTec 2009 in Basel, Switzerland, with the presentation of the scientific poster, "A cost-effective workflow for high-throughput screening of G-Protein-Coupled Receptors (GPCRs)." The poster details the use of Enzo's new FluoForte Calcium Assay Kit for monitoring intracellular calcium mobilization with BioTek's Synergy Mx Monochromator-based Multi-Mode Microplate Reader.
For BioTek, working with Enzo was part of its strategy of raising awareness of its instrument capabilities and the advantages of various reagent technologies by engaging in numerous collaborative projects with various reagent vendors that cover all the company's products, says Gary Barush, BioTek's director of marketing and sales.
"We have extensive collaborations with Promega, Invitrogen and Millipore, resulting in numerous conference posters, application notes, technical bulletins, peer-reviewed publications and co-marketing activities," Barush says. "We engaged Enzo Biochem as another collaborative partner due to their interest in developing new proprietary live cell assays for microplate instrumentation. Both companies realized that many cell based assays, such as GPCR screening assays, are not accessible to smaller biotech and pharma companies, or to academic laboratories, due to the very high entry cost associated with purchase of fluorescent imaging plate readers, such as the FLIPR and FDSS instruments."
The real synergy in the partnership is expertise in both instrumentation and reagents, as well as a commitment to integrating both into high-performance workflows that provide strong analytical capabilities to cell analysis, Barush says.
"We believe that modest levels of compound screening can be achieved with a simpler and lower-cost instrument, such as the Synergy Mx instrument, combined with high-performance reagents, such as Enzo's FluoForte calcium assay, to effectively meet customer needs," he adds. "A major source of frustration for many researchers has been that selected assays were not compatible with a particular instrument, and vice-versa. Our companies each provide key expertise and capabilities in the live-cell analysis arena, bringing together BioTek's capabilities in microplate detection and dispensing technology that matches perfectly with Enzo's cutting-edge live cell analysis reagents and kits. The result is a 'turnkey' instrument/reagent system which has been fine-tuned for optimum performance."
Patton notes that historically, many assays performed in the drug discovery area have involved endpoint approaches using fixed cells. However, many pharmaceutical companies are now gravitating towards live-cell assays, including the use of primary cells, tissues and even small animals, like zebrafish, especially for toxicology applications, he points out.
"Live cell analysis offers two main advantages: First, it provides a streamlined workflow that does away with the overhead of permeabilization, fixation and secondary antibody incubation steps. Second, it offers the opportunity to perform real-time kinetic analysis," Patton says. "This is already well-accepted practice for certain benchmark assays, such as calcium mobilization, cell cycle, cell migration and wound healing assays. The challenge is to increase the number of assays that can be performed in a live cell context. While probably less than a quarter of all cell-based studies in the pharmaceutical industry are currently performed using living cells, we feel that live cell analysis will ultimately be necessary to provide the requisite detail needed to understand complex dynamic cellular processes."
Ultimately, the partnership will provide a range of tools to help pharmaceutical and biotech companies optimize their preclinical and clinical drug development programs through early lead drug identification, lead candidate selection, predictive toxicology and compound characterization, Barush concludes.
"Toxicity continues to be responsible for more than 30 percent of compound attrition during the drug development process, and remains one of the major causes for drugs being withdrawn after their approval," he notes. "Our assay workflows will provide robust and rapid in vitro toxicity screening approaches to identify compound liabilities and STR (structure toxicity relationship) associated with new chemical entities (NCEs), aiding in selection and optimization of NCEs in the early stages of drug discovery. The results obtained from a menu of assays on our instrument, with accompanying dose-response profiles, will provide better understanding of the potential toxicity of compounds, and thus, facilitate selection of compounds with the highest probability of success."