PALO ALTO, Calif.—Agilent Technologies in early January broadened its microarray platform to include applications in ChIP-on-Chip and comparative genomic hybridization (CGH), two areas that hold promise for drug development aimed at the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease and central nervous system disorders. In all, Agilent anticipates these two areas will comprise roughly 10 percent — or about $100 million — of the total microarray market by 2007.
A key element in the expansion of its microarray platform was the acquisition of Computational Biology Corp. of Cambridge, Mass. Through this acquisition, Agilent acquired exclusive rights to a patent relating to ChIP-on-Chip technology developed by MIT colleagues Drs. Richard Young and David Gifford. The power of the patent, explains Heidi Wyle, former chief executive officer of Computational Biology, is the combination of Young's chromatin immuno-precipitation technique (ChIP) with a powerful computational tool developed by Gifford.
Financial details of the acquisition were not released.
"In a lot of ways (chromatin immuno-precipitation) is a more important measurement than RNA expression since this gives you an orthogonal measurement of the regulatory pathways," says Wyle. "But the results of the technique are quite complex and the one-two punch of the wet lab technique combined with the new computational tools form an extremely important new technology."
Agilent, early on, saw the power of this combination and of being able to commercialize microarrays that could allow researchers to understand how regulatory proteins interact with the genome of living cells. "This is a quantum breakthrough, since any other technique you use is not going to be able to provide a direct measure of this information and on a scale that our microarray platforms can provide," says Lou Welebob, Agilent's marketing program manager for genomic solutions.
For the folks at Computational Biology, the sale to Agilent made sense as it provides a platform for commercialization of the patented technology and allows Young and Gifford — who will provide ongoing consulting to Agilent — to continue their work in the science of computational biology. "ChIP-on-Chip technology is on fire now and so our question was how can we commercialize this while keeping the focus on the future which, from our perspective, is computational biology" says Wyle.
In a related development, Agilent also announced plans for a collaborative research center based in Cambridge that can continue to take advantage of Young's and Gifford's continued work. While no location for the center had been secured by press time, the intent was to have it up and running by mid-2005.
In addition to its ChIP-on-Chip microarray, Agilent also released in January a new microarray platform for comparative genomics. Array-based comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH) provides a method of studying chromosomal changes in cancerous cells. A recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) and in collaboration with the National Human Genome Research Institute details how this new array-based platform overcomes "several scientific hurdles that have impeded comparative genomic studies of cancer," according to press release from Agilent.
"Right now the products themselves are in a very early stage and in an early access program," says Welebob. "But as people ask us about them we are providing information so they can understand how these can be applied in their research."
At present, Agilent is making both technologies available to interested parties on a custom-designed basis, says Christina Maehr, a company spokesperson. "The flexibility of our platform allows for us to do more custom applications, tailored to the individual needs of our clients," says Maehr. "But our intent is to come out with a more broadly commercial product later in the year."