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Feb 1, 2010 (Vol. 30, No. 3)

Epigenetic Research Surges on Many Fronts

Widespread Adoption Being Driven by Role in Various Biological Processes

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    Total U.S. epigenetics markets, 2009

    The discovery that epigenetics plays a pivotal role in the regulation of gene expression sparked tremendous interest among researchers to further study these processes. Epigenetic research has experienced a tremendous surge in recent years, as researchers discovered the major role DNA methylation, chromatin and histone modification, and other epigenetic mechanisms play in various biological processes.

    Replication, recombination, transcription, repair, chromosomal stability, epigenetic silencing, and cell-cycle progression are all affected by epigenetic events. In addition, many diseases involve the malfunction of these activities at the chromatin level.

    As an increasing number of fields adopt epigenetic research, the broad reach of these important mechanisms are being realized. Researchers are adopting epigenetics to see if these emerging methods can answer their biological questions. As is typical in an emerging and exciting research field, the major driver for product markets is the scientific discoveries that attract new researchers to the field.

    As scientists publish new findings about the role of epigenetic mechanisms in gene expression, pathways, diseases, or various fields they study, their discoveries prompt other researchers to study the importance of epigenetics in their own work. Researchers have found that DNA methylation and chromatin modification play important roles in cancer, heart disease, aging, neuroscience, stem cell research, and developmental biology, to name a few. With researchers increasingly adopting epigenetic research resulting in a healthy growth rate for epigenetic products, many life sciences companies have entered the market to take advantage of the fast-paced research. The market for epigenetic research tools is up significantly from 2006.

    Epigenetic product vendors range from small vendors focusing on the epigenetic market to well-established companies looking to offer complete workflows. The number of new entries into the market has slowed over the past two years due to little opportunity to greatly improve upon current products in order to overcome late entry and gain market share. More commonly, companies are looking to develop next-generation or disruptive technologies to current methods.

    From 2006 to 2008, the epigenetic market experienced high growth associated with newly initiated markets for a hot research area. Revenues steeply ramped up as epigenetic researchers began to purchase commercial epigenetic products rather than spending the time and effort to develop them in-house.

    In 2009, the growth dropped to just over 10% overall due to restricted research budgets. While the epigenetic market was not affected as heavily as markets reliant on capital-equipment spending, the market would have experienced greater growth in 2009 if not for the economic situation.

    Furthermore, 2009 marked the first year of decline for the chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) array market. After ChIP-sequencing was developed in 2007, early-adopters started to make the transition to the new method in 2008. However, in 2008, researchers newly adopting chromatin analysis were likely to utilize ChIP-on-chip arrays as methods for ChIP-sequencing were being fine-tuned. Additionally, the expense of ChIP sequencing was often cost-prohibitive for researchers in 2008.

    As methods were refined, the cost of next-generation sequencing per run declined, and more researchers gained access to the new technology, a larger percentage of epigenetics researchers were able to adopt the method in 2009. Unlike other next-generation sequencing applications, the advantages of ChIP sequencing greatly outweighed the advantages of ChIP-on-chip causing the transition from arrays to sequencing to be faster than average. The economic downturn coupled with this transition resulted in a lowered overall growth rate of the epigenetics market in 2009.


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