Paris In an effort to drive its silicon lab-on-chip technology into commercial diagnostics markets, STMicroelectronics has entered a joint development agreement with Mobidiag (Helsinki, Finland), a specialist in DNA biochips for medical analysis.
By merging ST's microfluidics technology with Mobidiag's molecular microbiology expertise, the companies plan to develop biochips and accessory instrumentation for genomic-based detection of infectious diseases. They hope to make a commercial product available to diagnostic labs in 2005.
Many in the field consider infectious disease detection the killer app for biochips (see www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20030923S0033). Researchers hope to develop low-cost chips capable of sample preparation and pathogen detection that will eventually allow doctors and nurses in emergency rooms or clinics to determine the exact pathogen causing an infection and, thus, devise a plan for treatment.
As the first step for such "point of care" biochip applications, ST and Mobidiag are developing a system that could afford clinical diagnostics laboratories faster, cheaper and easier-to-use access to genomic-based techniques. They believe such a system would revolutionize the way infectious diseases are detected.
Under the agreement, "ST will be the platform provider for all hardware, while Mobidiag will supply the diagnostic/assay content," said Anton Hofmeister, director of the Printhead and Micro-fluidics Business Unit at STMicroelectronics. Software will be developed jointly, he said.
The goal is a silicon microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) biochip that would reduce the cost and complexity of diagnostics. Today, conventional labs perform DNA analysis with large, costly equipment that can take several hours to use.
"We were looking for the best technical fit with our biochip and one focused on the applications that carried the largest commercial weight," Hofmeister said of the partnership. Mobidiag was "the only company with a clear vision of the applications and of our target market. We felt their method was the strongest from a commercial point of view."
Mobidiag, founded in 2000, has been providing diagnostic services to hospitals since early 2002. To date, the company has developed biochip panels to detect respiratory-tract infections as well as life-threatening infections in hospitalized patients.
ST's alliance with Mobidiag is built on ST's own experience in developing labs-on-chip. In October 2002, ST announced the development of a disposable, standalone device that performs DNA amplification and detection of target DNA sequences. The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technique performed on the device is implemented using a silicon MEMS chip in which channels buried in the silicon carry the mixture of sample and reagents, while highly accurate resistive heating elements perform the temperature cycling. The PCR technique thus can be applied in a compact analysis tool that only needs very small quantities of the costly reagents. Disposable cartridges reduce the risk of cross-contamination of samples.
Before launching a commercial system, ST and Mobidiag plan to offer complete products to their development partners in 2004. ST's biochip research team is based in Agrate, Italy.