Inkjet tech: Not just for printers anymore

Tecan and HP to market new drug-dispensing solution for pharmaceutical testing with goal of providing faster, more accurate drug screening

Jeffrey Bouley
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MÄNNEDORF, Switzerland—Inkjet technology is moving fromprinters to the laboratory benchtop, thanks to a deal recently sealed throughwhich the Tecan Group and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) willcommercialize products based on HP's high-performance inkjet dispensingtechnology for pharmaceutical drug discovery—the goal being to enable biopharmaresearchers to accelerate and improve the evaluation of novel drug candidates.
The new high-performance dispensing products commercializedby Tecan and HP would be used in research, they say, in order to speed theevaluation of how potential drug compounds impact biological agents at very lowconcentrations. This new capability reportedly would benefit research bysignificantly improving accuracy when evaluating drug effectiveness, testingdrug interactions and developing new drugs.
Under the agreement, Tecan will provide exclusive sales,marketing, service and support through its Life Sciences business for theinstruments and consumables, but products will be sold under the HP brand.Tecan will begin marketing the products across the United States and Europe,with said products expected to be commercially available later this year.
HP and Tecan executives had an initial conversation at aLabAutomation conference a few years ago, and both parties were intrigued atthe prospect of working together, recalls Thomas Bachmann, CEO of Tecan.
"HP invited Tecan's response to an RFP, and Tecan converselywas excited about working with such an innovative company," he says, adding:"The prospect of working with HP also ties into Tecan's long-term strategy tobe an innovative solution provider."
Speaking of this new inkjet-based product—which may not bethe only product to come out of the partnership if things go well—the companiesdescribe it as "a simple, stand-alone system for drug titration."
HP has invented a new "direct digital titration" methodologythat radically simplifies traditional drug discovery workflows, empoweringbiologists in decentralized laboratories like therapeutic areas, small- tomedium-sized pharmas, CROs and similar venues, Bachmann says. He adds that thismay also end up including larger organizations in areas like compoundmanagement or screening, where new quality and efficiency advantages areachieved by restructuring the work into small batches.
"But the bigger impact will come from bringinghigh-performance titration to the bench," Bachmann says. "Tecan and HP share aview of developing better solutions for the benchtop arena, which hastraditionally been overlooked for high-performance dispensing technologies."
"HP continues to develop new applications where our inkjettechnology can address current challenges and quickly bring new value to avariety of industries," notes Kathy Tobin, vice president and general managerof Specialty Printing Systems at HP. "HP and Tecan's combined resources canhelp accelerate the drug discovery process, providing biopharmaceuticalcompanies with even greater opportunity for drug innovation."

As for why this is the right time for such a technology tobe nudged into the pharma and biotech world, Tecan's director of productmanagement, Wendy Lauber, says: "The industry is recognizing a need for change.There is a trend towards benchtop automation solutions. Earlier shifts towardscentralization and BioPharma vertical integration are reversing. There aregreater pressures than ever before to improve productivity and accelerate thediscovery of better drugs, thus reducing attrition and time to market.Oftentimes, new solutions are strengthened by bringing new perspective toentrenched challenges, especially when the customers and market are ready."
Reportedly, HP is already beta testing the product withseveral large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies "with good results."

Jeffrey Bouley

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