Thermo expands RNAi offering with Open Bio purchase
acquired shRNA expert Open Biosystems to expand its gene silencing
The acquisition of Open Biosystems, which posted 2007 revenues of $14bn, will boost Thermo's position in the ever-growing RNAi (RNA interference) market with its shRNA (short hairpin RNA) libraries that target the entire human and mouse genomes. Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed. RNAi is a method of 'switching-off' gene expression and enables researchers to study what individual genes do and how they are related to disease progression. This in turn enables pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical firms to identify new targets for their drug discovery programmes. Pharmaceutical firms are investing heavily in trying to harness RNAi either as therapeutics, with Roche and Merck & Co., or as adjunct therapies that either enhance drug activity or reduce negative side effects. Thermo already had a strong presence in the sector with its Dharmacon siRNA (small interfering RNA) library as well as its SMARTvector shRNA Lentiviral particle line, licensed from Lentigen. Open Biosystems' shRNA libraries for the entire human and mouse genome will complement Thermo's current offering as well as providing the viral vectors often used to deliver them. "The acquisition of Open Biosystems further strengthens our market-leading position in synthetic RNAi products with highly complementary technologies based on advanced shRNA," said Marijn Dekkers, CEO of Thermo Fisher Scientific. "This combination brings together leading technologies for analysing gene function, allowing us to create a powerful tool set for our customers who are performing cutting-edge life science research." The acquisition follows the settlement of a patent dispute in March over the use of lentivirus vector technology in research reagents, which resulted in Open Biosystems agreeing to acquire certain license rights from Oxford Biomedica and Sigma-Aldrich. This lentivector technology is used in both Open Biosystems' Tranz-vector delivery system and Sigma-Aldrich's LentiExpress shRNA product lines. These products enable whole genome cellular screening and the ability to perform drug target validation on a large scale. The lentiviral delivery approach will boost Thermo Fisher's Dharmacon RNAi Discovery and Therapeutics Services Laboratory which was opened last June to assist pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies from the start of the drug target discovery process through to producing siRNA molecules for pre-clinical trials. In a previous interview, Mike Dienes, vice president of Sales and Marketing at Dharmacon Products, Drug Discovery and Development at Thermo Fisher Scientific, told LabTechnologist.com that using RNAi in high throughput screening experiments adds extra layers of complexity compared with traditional small molecule screening experiments. This extra complexity involves the difficulty of introducing the RNAi molecules into the cells using transfection or lentiral delivery methods as well as the enormous size of the experiments. "siRNA libraries can contain over 21,000 individual molecules when you conduct a genome-wide screen and these are often done in duplicate or triplicate under different conditions - this means you could be conducting well over 100,000 cell culture experiments in one screen," said Dienes.