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Scramble for CodeLink Customers


By Robert M. Frederickson

Feb. 12, 2007 | Last December, GE Healthcare announced the shutdown of its CodeLink business unit (Tempe, AZ) in early 2007. Inherited from the former Amersham Biosciences, the CodeLink franchise produced DNA microarrays that rated favorably both among users and when compared to similar products marketed by Affymetrix, Agilent, Applied Biosystems, and Illumina in a recent report in Nature Biotechnology describing the results of the FDA’s Microarray Quality Control (MAQC) consortium project (See “Microarray Platforms Shine,” Bio•IT World, Oct. 2006, p. 18). According to GE, production of their pre-array slides will cease in April and they will take the last orders in February. GE will continue to produce blank slides for customers who wish to print their own arrays.

The news was not a complete surprise to some users of the system who felt the company had been backing away from the platform, evidenced by perceptions of limited product support and lack of new products in the past couple of years. Nevertheless, the product continued to receive high marks from users, and received a boost due to its participation in MAQC study, which compared a variety of microarray platforms for the evaluation of a selection of clinical biomarkers. The MAQC study involves hundreds of participants from government, academia, and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, with the stated aim of establishing microarrays as viable diagnostic tools.

Driving Force
So what was behind GE Healthcare’s move? The official word is that it was the high cost of production of the chips that prevented GE from growing the business sufficiently to make it a commercially viable platform. However, the DNA microarray business is a crowded one chasing a relatively small market at this time, mainly limited to research laboratories and core centers around the globe. While there has been much talk of DNA microarrays making a significant impact on the field of clinical diagnostics, this has failed to materialize to date. In fact, many observers note that diagnostic tests for various conditions will likely involve the measurement of a handful to a few dozen key biomarkers — and not the thousands of genes that are possible with microarrays. Thus, the DNA microarray may prove to be “information overload” for this market and simply too expensive due to licensing and production costs to make a real impact on the potentially huge market represented by clinical diagnostics. GE likely recognized this and, realizing that the research market was a relatively small and fragmented one, decided to focus on  other priorities in the Life Sciences marketplace.

Smooth Transitions
Of course, this is of little comfort to current CodeLink users. GE says it will work to help transition users to other systems, and producers of competing platforms are gearing up for the challenge. The automation, customer support, and bioinformatic tools of Affymetrix chips are well established, although the performance has been reported by some to be inferior to that of the CodeLink arrays. However, a key concern for any user or core facility will be to invest in a microarray platform that will be around in the near future, and Affymetrix’ imprint is large enough to provide some confidence.

Smaller operations such as Illumina or Agilent also offer viable alternatives, although readers may want to compare both value and data quality of the platforms in the MAQC study. According to Shawn Baker, Illumina’s scientific product manager for gene expression analysis, a transition from GE’s CodeLink platform to the Illumina platform could be relatively easy because the assays are similar.  In addition to both being one-color, single-probe assays, the labeling systems are both based on Ambion’s MessageAmp II technology.  To further simplify a transition for customers, Illumina has worked closely with colleagues at GE Healthcare to obtain the probe sequences for their whole genome products.  Using this list, Illumina bioinformatics scientists are actively developing a cross-mapping file so as to aid GE Healthcare customers in translating their results to the Illumina platform.  These tools/cross-mapping files are available now at www.switchtoi.com, as is complete information on transitioning to Illumina's platform.

E-mail Robert M. Frederickson at rfreder@yahoo.com.

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