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Asterand establishes RNA e-commerce
DETROIT—Asterand in March announced a new program for selling human RNA samples over the Internet.
"We want to make it easier for our customers to access RNA," says Victoria Blanc, director of product development. "We have a lot of Big Pharma clients and academics who might need just a few aliquots of RNA." Blanc says the new system should be helpful in early stage drug discovery, for scientists looking at hypotheses but not needing copious clinical data. Purchases are streamlined by eliminating the need to speak with a business development manager to select individual samples of interest.
Although customers with specialized RNA needs will still need to make custom orders through a company representative, Asterand launched its RNA e-commerce by posting common RNA products, isolated from lung, breast, and prostate tumor tissues and adjacent normal tissue. "There's a strong need for oncology tissues and oncology RNA, and that's part of why that's up online right away," says Blanc. New offerings will be posted as they become available.
Simplified operations mean Internet orders are often discounted, but they include the same patient history information as other purchases, according to Blanc. Each RNA sample is a 5-microgram aliquot isolated from one tissue sample from one patient.
The sample ships with a data CD containing an image of the histological specimen, pathology report, plus an Excel spreadsheet detailing patient information—such as demographics, treatment history and cancer stage—without revealing donor identity.
Blanc says Asterand has hundreds of thousands of tissues in its banks, enabling it to provide diverse materials to researchers. Procurement and sale of tissues carry ethical responsibilities. "We want to be cognizant and respectful of the human nature of these materials," says Blanc.
Tissue samples are quality assured by a board-certified pathologist, says Blanc, ensuring sufficient tumor gene expression. Asterand evaluates samples using the Agilent Bioanalyzer, which provides an RNA integrity number (RIN). Quality is one reason so few companies sell RNA, believes Blanc: many samples fail to meet a high enough standard under the Agilent system. Asterand sells only samples with RINs of six or greater, and tumor RNA is isolated from regions containing at least 70 percent tumor cells.
Alan Louie, research director at Health Industry Insights, an IDC Company, says those standards should be high enough for applications like PCR, though he questions the utility of "off-the-shelf" RNA for work more intricate than broad screenings. In discussing difficulties of working with cancer tissues, Louie cites the instability of RNA as well as criticisms of the Cancer Genome Project, which include the fact that mutations can differ greatly throughout tumors, affecting research. Overall, Louie sees e-commerce RNA as a niche market. "For people just starting to try out new areas, it might be useful," he says, adding later, "People who are working in the space will probably make their own."