Caliper's losses fall as industry adopt microfluidics

Related tags Drug discovery Pharmacology High-throughput screening Caliper life sciences

Caliper Life Sciences' LabChip technology continues to prove
popular with large pharmaceutical companies as its third quarter
financial results show a net loss that has more than halved from
its 3Q 2003 performance.

With companies such as Aventis and Pfizer adding to its existing investments in microfluidic screening, Caliper's core technology of liquid handling and automation has had a profound effect on the sector, pushing the boundaries of HTS.

However microfluidics - a liquid handling technology that uses volumes at the nanolitre scale - is still in the early stages of adoption. According to Caliper, 12 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies now use Caliper screening systems at one or more sites.

For the quarter ended September 30, 2004, total revenues were $20.2 million (€15.6 million) compared with 2003's figure of $16.5 million. Total costs and expenses also made for good reading, down slightly from $ 27.4 million to $25.3million.

The company reported that over the last three months, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and the Japanese company Taisho Pharmaceutical each purchased LabChip 3000 drug discovery systems for the first time.

Launched in February this year, the LabChip 3000 is Caliper's system for automating biochemical and cell-based assays using its microfluidic chips, the first major product introduction for the company since it merged with Zymark last year.

Designed effectively an update of the older Caliper 250, its main advantage is a hike in throughput, achieved by allowing 12 experiments to be run in parallel on the chip. At present, all but the newest 250 systems can only manage four.

In commenting on the company's latest performance, Kevin Hrusovsky, CEO of Caliper​ said: "LabChip microfluidic screening systems has continued to expand in two different ways. Purchases of systems by new customers and purchases of additional systems by existing customers."

"When Merck and Johnson & Johnson adopt our microfluidic screening systems in their drug discovery programs this tells us that word is spreading about the ability of our microfluidics platforms to impact drug discovery."

Caliper's acquisition of laboratory automation, liquid handling and robotics specialist Zymark in a $71 million (€61m) deal, as well as the August's collaboration with Sigma-Aldrich to develop and co-market a series of automated systems, have put the company firmly on the map in drug discovery and diagnosis of disease.

However, in an interview with​ Hrusovsky identified a several issues behind an alarming decline in R&D productivity that is causing such consternation in the boardrooms of drug manufacturers that threaten to halt the development of numerous technologies such as high-throughput screening (HTS) that have been developed over the last few years and have only recently proved their worth.

One issue causing concern is the cost of performing experiments and the high cost. Scientists are continually pushing back the frontiers of scientific knowledge into uncharted territory, tackling new and unvalidated drug targets.

Another major issue is the attrition rate of compounds coming through development, particularly as companies are looking more and more at new drug targets about which little is known.

Companies are now exploring ways to get information sooner about the effects compounds have in the body. Combining technologies such as genomics and proteomics with screening in the earliest stages of drug discovery is increasingly becoming the industry standard.

Related topics Preclinical Research

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