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Genetics tailored to fit
CARLSBAD, Calif.—Invitrogen Corp. is set to become the exclusive worldwide distributor of synthetic genes produced by Blue Heron Biotechnology, under a new strategic development and distribution relationship. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed, but according to Invitrogen's Nathan Wood, vice president of cloning and protein expression, his company will invest in Blue Heron in exchange the rights to distribute Blue Heron's custom gene synthesis services.
Blue Heron's proprietary GeneMaker platform reportedly can synthesize any gene sequence, with "perfect accuracy" regardless of length or complexity, according to the companies. As Wood notes, researchers worldwide are increasingly turning to synthetic genes as a convenient, cost-effective alternative for traditional cloning, and accurate and rapid synthesis of synthetic genes has allowed pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to speed the drug discovery process, making it a very important avenue of business to pursue.
Invitrogen is already a leader in the market for recombinant cloning and protein expression products, as well as the provider of what is reportedly the largest fully sequenced human open reading frame clone collections. Gene synthesis builds upon this strength, Wood says, and will be especially useful in emerging fields such as synthetic biology.
"There was a big rush to finish work on human genome sequencing," he notes. "Now, that has been completed but that information is being continually refined and as new data have come out, there has been an increasing influence on things like target identification and validation. The work of discovery is becoming more intensely information driven with analysis of sequence variation, pathway analysis and data mining. With custom gene synthesis added to our mix, we can be more targeted in this kind of work. You can cut out a lot of the discovery work you had to do before and go right to the computer to get the specific gene sequence you want."
Not only is synthetic biology an emerging market unto itself, Wood says, but it is increasingly coming into convergence with systems biology and thus becoming a more practical tool for drug discovery. The foundation for this convergence to be successful, though, lies in efficient and reliable gene synthesis, and thus Blue Heron's expertise was a strong draw for the strategic relationship.
The deal, of course, is important to Blue Heron as well, notes John Fess, the company's CEO. "Partnering with a life sciences leader such as Invitrogen is an important milestone in Blue Heron Bio's continued growth and signals an important milestone for the overall gene synthesis market as well," he says, adding that Invitrogen's "unmatched" distribution and marketing channels will be critical to making Blue Heron's gene synthesis services more widely available. As part of the agreement, the companies also will co-develop new products and services for the research and biopharmaceutical markets.