WaferGen pushes PCR research with Malaysian subsidiary

By Mike Nagle

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gene Genetics Gene expression

WaferGen has launched a new subsidiary in Kedah, Malaysia, with the
express purpose of overseeing research and development of its
real-time PCR system.

The Californian firm will use its new base in Kulim Hi-Tech Park, Kedah, Malaysia, to pursue and establish research collaborations with both local universities and government-run research centres. WaferGen's Malaysian arm will also coordinate production of the SmartChip PCR system with a newly signed-up local contract manufacturer called Pentamaster Corporation Berhad. More and more companies throughout the life sciences sector are increasing their presence in Asia - attracted by cheaper costs and a relatively untapped talent pool. Given that the genetic analysis market alone (comprised of gene expression and genotyping analysis) was worth around $2.4bn in 2006, and is expected to rise to $5bn in by 2012, there is a huge market for WaferGen to target. The firm hopes to get its share by developing a machine that, it claims, combines the capacity and cost efficiency of microarrays with the sensitivity and accuracy of real-time PCR. WaferGen CEO Alnoor Shivji described Kedah as "an emerging hotbed of biotech-related talent, resources and infrastructure"​ and described the firm's investment as "long-term"​. The new subsiduary's first task will be to optimise various gene panel assays to be used with the SmartChip system. The assays can be applied in a number of areas, including various disease targets, as well as toxicology and whole-genome analysis. WaferGen will work with the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA) and the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation (BiotechCorp). Meanwhile, local universities and Malaysia's Genome Research Center will be tapped up to identify new therapeutic biomarkers, which in turn will give the firm new targets for SmartChip and its assays. The recently completed 'alpha version' of the SmartChip Real-Time PCR System - and associated cancer gene panel assays - is capable of running 33,750 assays on a single chip, compared to 384 assays on a single plate with standard PCR technologies. Also, each of the system's wells uses a reaction volume of 100 nanoliters, which is around 100 times less than standard machines. Overall, WaferGen believes this allows researchers to conduct gene expression research at a fraction of the time and cost associated with current technologies. The system and oncology gene panel assays will soon begin alpha testing at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. At the same time, the firm is developing additional assays, to use in toxicology studies for example. Development of an enhanced version of the system is also underway. The new machine will allow 100,000 assays on a single chip, which could allow each chip to complete whole genome gene expression in triplicate. A new subsidiary in Malaysia ought to speed up this development process while WaferGen peddles the first SmartChip machine.

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