Lane to lane, run to run

Caliper turns to Sony Blu-ray technology for expedited microfluidics workflow

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HOPKINTON, Mass.—Caliper Life Sciences Inc., will partner with Sony DADC Austria AG for the co-development and manufacture of plastic consumables for Caliper's next-generation microfluidics products.

"The exacting requirements for fragment size control in next-generation sequencing (NGS) are best addressed with Caliper's patented microfluidics technology, while the scale of the opportunity created an opportunity for outsourced manufacturing and the transition from glass to plastic chip format," says Kevin Hrusovsky, president and CEO of Caliper. "We selected Sony DADC, the world's largest producer of super high-quality Blu-ray discs, because of their outstanding quality and large-volume manufacturing credentials."

Hrusovsky claims that NGS is "the fastest growing industry in the world," eclipsing Moore's Law by five times in the past 24 months. Caliper's LabChip XT system, an automated nucleic acid fractionation instrument for next-generation sequencing applications, removes a key bottleneck in sequencing workflows by replacing tedious gel isolation and purification steps used in size selection. The plastic chips manufactured by Sony DADC allow Caliper to offer a cost-effective and disposable consumable that eliminates cross-contamination potential, which is a key concern for genomics researchers.

The LabChip XT instrument uses microfluidic electrophoresis to separate up to four DNA samples simultaneously. A sample travels down a channel where it is separated and analyzed. At the end of the channel a current switch is used to drive the desired fragments into a collection well. Other fragments are dumped into a waste well. The desired sample is collected and is ready for PCR enrichment prior to going onto the sequencer.

"The XT significantly reduces the time required to build DNA libraries," says Hrusovsky. "The manual technique can take six days to build one library, and we can do four in 30 minutes on the same chip. The cost is lower and contamination is eliminated, lane-to-lane and run-to-run."

The technology combines the electrode with the chip so electrodes are not re-used, which can be a source of contamination.

In an unusually frank discussion of the system's commercial potential, Hrusovsky says he expects to have one LabChip XT in place for every two sequencers, or about 2,000 units by the end of 2012. He predicts that about 100 of the disposable Sony-made chips will be used annually by each XT.

Caliper is also aggressively innovating new technology to bridge the gap between in vitro assays and in vivo results and then translating those results into cures for human disease, Hrusovsky adds.  

"One of the best ways to do this is through imaging, both pathology (isolated tissue) as well as whole body imaging," he says. "The fact that you can use the same molecular biomarkers, both in vivo and in vitro, and test different samples from the same patient (e.g., tissue by in vivo diagnostics and blood by in vitro diagnostics) is very compelling.  Furthermore, it is based on good science since you are minimizing the number of variables between the in vitro condition versus the in vivo condition, which makes an 'apples to apples' comparison more credible."

The technique uses molecular probes that light up to identify cancer cells, for example. When Caliper acquired Xenogen and its CCD camera imaging technology in 2006, there were about 400 cameras in use; there will be about 1,000 by year's end. Currently, revenue generated by the sale of units and licensing patents to users totals about $60 million/year, Hrusovsky says. Caliper systems are in use at Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson and elsewhere.

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