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Protein Arrays: When Genes Are Not Enough

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

There's growing conviction that gene arrays are less useful than first imagined for expression studies and diagnostics--and that directly reading protein expression will more likely provide an accurate picture of biological status-health, disease, and pharmaceutical response. Thus, a number of companies have started up to create, on the analogy of gene arrays, protein arrays, to allow the simultaneous and quantitative testing of large numbers of proteins-potentially thousands.But the task is easier said than done. First, there are too few proteins known to allow testing for worthwhile expression patterns; and, second, because of the delicacy and variety of proteins, surface chemistry and other problems have historically made arrays impractical. None of this daunts the start-ups who, opportunistic, are looking to exploit the markets they think they can get to first: clinical diagnostics and pharmaceutical clinical development programs.

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Affymetrix can succeed long term if gene expression proves to be a viable method for assaying disease. For now, that core question-the extent to which genotype correlates with phenotype-is as much a matter of philosophy as it is demonstrable fact. But making that determination will take time-and much data. Meanwhile, with its first-mover advantage in technology development and a strong IP portfolio, the company's GeneChip will likely as not be the technology used to answer that question. And in that sense, the GeneChip technology is enabling. Thus, at least for the time being, Affymetrix is well positioned to grow its life sciences markets. And through a recent major deal with Roche, it could become a major player in the nascent but arguably huge market for array-based clinical diagnostics.

Affymetrix: Taking the Long View

Affymetrix can succeed long term if gene expression proves to be a viable method for assaying disease. For now, that core question-the extent to which genotype correlates with phenotype-is as much a matter of philosophy as it is demonstrable fact. But making that determination will take time-and much data. Meanwhile, with its first-mover advantage in technology development and a strong IP portfolio, the company's GeneChip will likely as not be the technology used to answer that question. And in that sense, the GeneChip technology is enabling. Thus, at least for the time being, Affymetrix is well positioned to grow its life sciences markets. And through a recent major deal with Roche, it could become a major player in the nascent but arguably huge market for array-based clinical diagnostics.

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