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Inkjet tech: Not just for printers anymore
May 2011
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author
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MÄNNEDORF, Switzerland—Inkjet technology is moving from printers to the laboratory benchtop, thanks to a deal recently sealed through which the Tecan Group and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) will commercialize products based on HP's high- performance inkjet dispensing technology for pharmaceutical drug discovery—the goal being to enable biopharma researchers to accelerate and improve the evaluation of novel drug candidates.  
 
The new high-performance dispensing products commercialized by Tecan and HP would be used in research, they say, in order to speed the evaluation of how potential drug compounds impact biological agents at very low concentrations. This new capability reportedly would benefit research by significantly improving accuracy when evaluating drug effectiveness, testing drug interactions and developing new drugs.
 
Under the agreement, Tecan will provide exclusive sales, marketing, service and support through its Life Sciences business for the instruments and consumables, but products will be sold under the HP brand. Tecan will begin marketing the products across the United States and Europe, with said products expected to be commercially available later this year.  
 
HP and Tecan executives had an initial conversation at a LabAutomation conference a few years ago, and both parties were intrigued at the prospect of working together, recalls Thomas Bachmann, CEO of Tecan.  
 
"HP invited Tecan's response to an RFP, and Tecan conversely was excited about working with such an innovative company," he says, adding: "The prospect of working with HP also ties into Tecan's long-term strategy to be an innovative solution provider." Speaking of this new inkjet-based product—which may not be the only product to come out of the partnership if things go well—the companies describe it as "a simple, stand-alone system for drug titration."  
 
HP has invented a new "direct digital titration" methodology that radically simplifies traditional drug discovery workflows, empowering biologists in decentralized laboratories like therapeutic areas, small- to medium-sized pharmas, CROs and similar venues, Bachmann says. He adds that this may also end up including larger organizations in areas like compound management or screening, where new quality and efficiency advantages are achieved by restructuring the work into small batches.
 
"But the bigger impact will come from bringing high-performance titration to the bench," Bachmann says. "Tecan and HP share a view of developing better solutions for the benchtop arena, which has traditionally been overlooked for high-performance dispensing technologies."
 
"HP continues to develop new applications where our inkjet technology can address current challenges and quickly bring new value to a variety of industries," notes Kathy Tobin, vice president and general manager of Specialty Printing Systems at HP. "HP and Tecan's combined resources can help accelerate the drug discovery process, providing biopharmaceutical companies with even greater opportunity for drug innovation."  

As for why this is the right time for such a technology to be nudged into the pharma and biotech world, Tecan's director of product management, Wendy Lauber, says: "The industry is recognizing a need for change. There is a trend towards benchtop automation solutions. Earlier shifts towards centralization and BioPharma vertical integration are reversing. There are greater pressures than ever before to improve productivity and accelerate the discovery of better drugs, thus reducing attrition and time to market. Oftentimes, new solutions are strengthened by bringing new perspective to entrenched challenges, especially when the customers and market are ready."  
Reportedly, HP is already beta testing the product with several large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies "with good results."
 
Code: E051110

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