Taking a breakthrough to the masses

ZyGEM acquires MicroLab Diagnostics to commercialize DNA testing, detection platform

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SOLANA BEACH, Calif.—ZyGEM has acquired MicroLab Diagnostics, a firm specializing in the development of microfluidic devices for rapid DNA testing.

ZyGEM intends to market products integrating its unique DNA extraction and reagents and detection assays with the breakthrough microfluidic chip technology developed by MicroLab, which will operate as a business unit of the new company.

Paul Kinnon, CEO of ZyGEM, says the acquisition will allow the company to combine the new microfluidic chip technology with its own DNA extraction and detection technologies.
"The aim is to develop assays for applications in fields ranging from point-of-care diagnostics and forensics to biodefense and food pathogen testing," Kinnon says.
MicroLab was founded in 2003 on technology developed by University of Virginia's Dr. James P. Landers, a professor of chemistry in the College of Arts & Sciences. It uses lab-on-a-chip technology to streamline the chemical processes involved in biochemical analysis, including DNA testing.

Kinnon says the integrated new products will dramatically decrease the time, complexity and cost of conducting DNA testing and have transformational potential in a broad range of applications. He says MicroLab was an attractive acquisition for ZyGEM.

"They had a lot of synergies and a lot of technologies that made this acquisition a good fit for us," he says. "This is a strategic acquisition that allows us to combine the two companies in an efficient manner. I believe that we will then be able to develop the new platforms."

Data presented at a recent scientific meeting demonstrated that a prototype of the new system produced accurate DNA results in less than an hour, comparable to results obtained with current technology requiring three separate instruments and five to 10 hours. Kinnon points out that the new technology has the potential to revolutionize DNA testing for the many applications where accuracy, speed and ease-of-use are critical, including, forensics, biodefense, point-of-care diagnostics and food pathogen testing.

"Combining ZyGEM's unique assays and reagents with MicroLab's revolutionary microfluidic chips will enable us to greatly expand the utility of DNA detection for both existing and new applications," notes Kinnon. "Even better, the transformative power of our technology is not a future dream—we have already presented data confirming our ability to achieve accurate results with unprecedented speed and ease-of-use. We intend to rapidly develop and commercialize our new platform with the help of selected partners."

MicroLab Diagnostics has developed advanced microfluidics chip technology that is exclusively licensed to the new company. MicroLab's miniaturization of the entire DNA testing process within a single closed system has many advantages. It significantly reduces the amount of sample and reagents that are needed while virtually eliminating the chances for handling error or contamination.  

Kinnon says the ZyGEM/MicroLab system is compact, easy-to-use and cost-effective, making it suitable for use both in the laboratory and out in the field. It can perform multiplexed analyses and can also be configured for specific applications. Portable, handheld versions are in development.

According to Landers, co-founder of MicroLab Diagnostics and chief scientific officer of the new company, the vision at MicroLab is to develop microfluidic chips capable of transforming DNA testing from a complex and costly process into one that is fast, flexible, affordable and widely accessible.  

"ZyGEM brings us DNA extraction and detection technology that is an ideal fit with our microchips, enabling us to achieve a seamless, sample-to-answer solution with broad market applicability," Landers notes. "It also brings us commercial expertise and a global network of distributors and partners. We look forward to working with our new colleagues to realize the dramatically improved access to DNA testing made possible by our integrated platform."

Kinnon adds that having achieved outstanding results during prototype testing phase, ZyGEM expects to initiate field testing of its system later this year, with commercial introduction planned for 2011.  

"We will initially target the forensic and government sectors, where we have already demonstrated convincing proof-of-concept and which represent markets we estimate to exceed $3 billion annually in the U.S. alone," he says.

Under the terms of the agreement, the new company will be called ZyGEM and will be headquartered in Charlottesville, Va. Kinnon will be chief executive officer of the new company. Further terms of the acquisition agreement were not disclosed, but the newly combined company won't waste any time getting to work.

"We will developing new products that we can take the market," says Kinnon. "The goal is to achieve that in the next year."

ZyGEM intends to continue to expand sales of its proprietary assays and kits that use a thermophilic enzyme to extract DNA or RNA from a wide range of sample types using a single, closed-tube system, he adds.

"Our approach significantly reduces the time and cost of DNA and RNA extractions while simplifying workflow and minimizing the risk of contamination and error," Kinnon explains. "The kits are adaptable for use with most laboratory automation systems and are sold globally by a network of distributors and partners serving the research, forensic, clinical diagnostics and livestock industries."  

The company's New Zealand-based laboratories will continue to develop new applications for ZyGEM's collection of 2,000 extremophile organisms, which contain rare enzymes of potential utility in a range of applications.

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