November 15, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 20)

Lack of Straightforward Solution for Gene Transfer Hampers Growth in This Sector

Transfection of nucleic acids into cells is often cited as users’ rate-limiting step in numerous biomedical research and bioproduction workflows. Accordingly, the burgeoning markets that surround biopharmaceuticals, RNA interference screening, and stem cell research are limited by the lack of a silver bullet for successful gene transfer.

The transfection market continues to face challenges related to poor transfection of hard-to-transfect cell lines, which include primary cell lines and stem cell lines. While some transfection technologies provide relatively good success rates, their disadvantages include severe side effects on the cells and difficult-to-reproduce results in the same cell line.

Moreover, the lack of robust technologies that enable stable transfection further restrains market growth. Stable transfection requires that the gene of interest be introduced into the host genome. While transient transfection is advantageous for the immediate analysis of genes and small-scale protein production, stable transfection ensures long-term, reproducible, and defined gene expression.

Stable transfection is vital to the analysis of gene function, large-scale protein production, and drug discovery. Because stable transfection is hard to achieve in primary cell lines, this application continues to be an important untapped niche in the transfection market. As a result, techniques for stable transfection remain a hot topic in the scientific community.

At the same time, today’s researchers have access to multiple transfection technologies from approximately 30 vendors. The broad selection of products and vendors are enabling transfection of traditionally hard-to-transfect cell lines, which in turn is promoting an estimated 7% compound annual growth rate of the global transfection technology market between 2009 and 2016.

Transfection technology market revenues are largely associated with the sales of kits for lipid-mediated transfection, generic chemicals and buffers for calcium phosphate-mediated transfection, instruments and kits for electroporation, and viral vectors. Of the approximately 200 million transfections conducted annually, the far majority are achieved using cationic lipid-based reagents. The resulting lipid-based transfection market totals over $100 million with large vendors holding the majority of market share.

In terms of revenues, the electroporation market represents the second largest segment of the total transfection technology market. While lipid-mediated transfections far outnumber electroporation-mediated transfections, the significantly higher cost per transfection associated with electroporation results in a substantial market size. Compared with the average lipid-mediated transfection that costs around $1, a transfection conducted by electroporation generally costs more than $5, with an electroporation cuvette alone costing as much as $3. Moreover, given electroporation’s fit for primary cells and stem cells, the electroporation market is forecasted to be the fastest growing segment of the overall transfection market.

With no ideal solution, the scientific community has adapted to using a range of technologies that form customized transfection solutions for specific hard-to-transfect cell lines. As a result, customers are increasingly purchasing their transfection technologies from vendors that provide optimized “one-stop solutions”, which include reagents, consumables, transfection instruments, and cell lines. Vendors that can provide this one-stop solution are expected to maintain or increase share in a market that is tied to many of the fastest growing applications in the life science industry. 

Reasons for satisfaction with transfection

Jonathan Witonsky ([email protected]) is a senior analyst in the drug discovery technologies and clinical diagnostics group of Frost & Sullivan. Web:

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