Old mouse does new trick

Caliper becomes first commercial life sciences company to offer research services using DuPont’s OncoMouse

Chris Anderson
HOPKINTON, Mass.—In a deal that marks the first time a license has been granted for broad commercial use of DuPont's OncoMouse technology, DuPont and Caliper Life Sciences announced late last month a licensing deal that will allow Caliper to use the OncoMouse technology with its EL-1/Tag-Luc pancreatic cancer model. With the license in hand, Caliper intends to leverage its in-house research technologies including its IVIS imaging systems and bioluminescent reporter genes to provider real-time monitoring of tumor development in live mouse models.

"We have developed a spontaneous cancer model for pancreatic cancer for use in our services business," says Kevin Hrusovksy, president and CEO of Caliper. "In order for us to offer this as a service to our customers, it was necessary for us to get the license to the OncoMouse technology."

While the transaction is straightforward for Caliper, it marks a departure for the way in which chemical and life science products and services giant DuPont grants licenses for its OncoMouse technology, according to Drew Van Dyk, associate director of commercial development.

"Our business model with OncoMouse has been to license it directly for the life of the patents with a single up-front fee, to biomedical and pharmaceutical companies for their own internal use," Van Dyk says. "In this case, we are enabling Caliper to test compounds for commercial companies without us having to [grant licenses] to each of their services customers. It simplifies the process of getting the technology to research services and it extends it into the CRO space. It also opens up the use of the technology to more companies who are able to do a single project with Caliper and that is positive for Caliper and DuPont."

The OncoMouse—also referred to as the Harvard Mouse—technology is not new. Patents for it were filed more than 20 years ago to protect the method of creating the transgenic mice which are more susceptible to developing cancer on their own, as opposed to the xenograft method of creating cancer models. The advantages of OncoMouse models versus xenograft models, is the mice are not immuno-compromised and thus provide a more relevant biological picture of cancer progression.

While Caliper thus becomes the first life sciences company to be able to offer the OncoMouse technology to third parties via a services model, it was not merely being the first such company that made the deal possible, notes Van Dyk.

"One of the things that attracted us to Caliper is their pancreatic mouse model is unique and coupled with their IVIS instruments and software, that made it attractive to us and it drove us to think about how to work in the CRO [market space]," Van Dyk adds.

While the current non-exclusive license granted to Caliper is only for its pancreatic cancer model, both companies have an eye on the future and the possibility to extend to other models in the future.

For now, Hrusovsky says, it is enough to have the one model to get the program up and running. Assessing the market potential for this service is difficult, as it is still in its infancy, though Hrusovksy estimates Caliper could add as much as $500,000 to its top line in the future based solely on demand for the pancreatic cancer model.

But the deal also highlights Caliper's ongoing transformation, as the company looks to more clearly focus on the biotech and pharma market. In late October, the company divested its Pharmaceutical Development & Quality Analysis (PDQ) product line, selling the unit to SOTAX Corp. for $13.8 million and the assumption of $2 million in debt. It also sold off its Auto Trace business, focused on the water testing and environmental market, to Dionex Corp. for $5 million.

The next result was to strengthen the company's balance sheet by nearly $21 million which will see Caliper start the new year with $30 million in cash on its books. "Right now cash is king," Hrusovsky notes, hinting that the cash could be used for strategic acquisitions in 2009 to further bolster the company's market position. DDN

Chris Anderson

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