May 15, 2012 (Vol. 32, No. 10)
Acquisition of Caliper Life Sciences Expanded Firm’s Microfluidics and Personalized Med Foci
When PerkinElmer acquired Caliper Life Sciences in November 2011, it obtained not only Caliper’s signature microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip technologies, but also the expertise that Caliper gained through its prior acquisitions of several companies over 10 years.
Caliper already had a suite of products for DNA, RNA, and protein testing, tissue analysis, and imaging technologies for small animals. “But Caliper did not have reagents or cellular assays. We relied on other companies to provide them,” says Kevin Hrusovsky, formerly CEO of Caliper and now senior vp and president of PerkinElmer Life Sciences & Technology.
What Caliper lacked it gained from PerkinElmer, whose acquisitions of companies like New England Nuclear and Evotech Technologies provide a large portfolio of reagents and cellular capabilities. “Caliper capped off our 2011 acquisitions. It gives us a complete spectrum of products from molecular testing to cellular and tissue testing to preclinical animal imaging,” says Daniel Marshak, Ph.D., senior vp and CSO of PerkinElmer.
The combined technology platforms of Caliper and PerkinElmer expand offerings for molecular, cellular, animal, and tissue imaging. These tools improve sample preparation and workflows in next-generation DNA sequencing, the detection of environmental contaminants and food pathogens, and quality control and quality assurance of biotherapeutics and biologics, according to Dr. Marshak.
Hrusovsky leads the PerkinElmer Life & Technology business, which integrates the former Caliper organization with PerkinElmer’s research business. For at least the first year, the Caliper name will be retained “because there’s a lot of brand loyalty for Caliper products,” says Hrusovsky. The headquarters of the PerkinElmer Life Sciences & Technology business is located in Hopkinton, MA, where Caliper was based.
Caliper has been involved in microfluidic lab-on-a-chip technology since 1998. Microfluidics continues to be important and is the fastest-growing technology portfolio at PerkinElmer. “The growth in microfluidics has been staggering,” says Hrusovsky.
Many problems that plagued microfluidics in the early days have been solved. The original microfluidic instruments were as large as a dining room table, cost $1 million, and the chips processed in them were the size of a quarter. Caliper invested $300 million in R&D to improve the systems. “The platform today looks like a toaster and works much better,” says Hrusovsky.
Microfluidics is the underlying technology behind next-generation sequencing as well as many biotherapeutics on the market today. For example, microfluidic-based tests are the quality assurance gold standard, sanctioned by the FDA, for some biotherapeutics on the market.
Microfluidics also fits with the trend toward increasingly smaller sample sizes. “Medicine is trying to test significantly more biomarkers on smaller and smaller samples,” says Hrusovsky. For example, rather than doing expensive and invasive biopsies, physicians may perform needlepoint aspirates of much smaller size. “Our technologies enable researchers and clinicians to do more testing faster and with less sample,” says Hrusovsky. Tests also can be multiplexed for simultaneous analysis.
Although microfluidics is more than a decade old, “it has moved with the times and now supports high-throughput screening,” says Dr. Marshak. Biochemical and cellular assays, which once performed one sample at a time, have been automated for high-content screening in biopharmaceutical research.
Advancing personalized medicine was a major goal at both Caliper and PerkinElmer, Dr. Marshak reports, noting that the experts at PerkinElmer remain dedicated to providing life scientists with drug discovery tools for genetic, biochemical, and cellular research.
PerkinElmer offers tools and services for clinical and preclinical imaging, digital pathology, sample preparation for next-generation sequencing, molecular and companion diagnostics, stem cell research, and the development of biotherapeutics and vaccines.
These technologies are intended to progress personalized medicine by improving patient diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. Novel technologies in areas like genomic analysis, biomarkers, and imaging will help detect diseases earlier and select individualized treatments that best benefit patients.
PerkinElmer already has experience in some areas of personalized medicine, particularly prenatal screening and testing newborns for genetic inborn errors of metabolism. In Asia, PerkinElmer systems are widely used to identify the cause of infectious diseases, says Dr. Marshak.
A new frontier is unraveling to examine how environmental factors, genetic predisposition, and lifestyle choices interact to affect cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses. “We’re evolving from personalized medicine to personalized health,” says Hrusovsky, noting that three cornerstones of personalized health are detection, treatment, and prevention.
“The prevention aspect needs more understanding of the environmental causes of disease,” Hrusovsky says. For example, it’s projected that 80% of breast cancers are caused by environmental, or epigenetic, factors. Similar to PerkinElmer’s technology that screens newborns for inborn errors of metabolism, healthcare in the future will consist of more screening options to catch diseases like cancer long before symptoms occur. By the time a tumor is palpable, it has a high potential to be metastatic.
“We have all the tools to process a person’s epigenome to pursue and integrate the way medicine and healthcare will be practiced in the future,” says Hrusovsky.
PerkinElmer recently expanded its Epigenetic Biochemical Toolbox to cover 35 validated enzymatic assays to detect post-translational modifications of histone H3 and p53.
To round out its capabilities, PerkinElmer’s latest acquisitions also include informatics companies. “We’re integrating informatics into all of our platforms to manage data. Then we’ll transcribe the information to help doctors apply it to patients,” says Hrusovsky.