PARIS In an effort to drive its silicon-based lab-on-a-chip to the commercial diagnostic market, STMicroelectronics has completed a joint development agreement with Helsinki-based Mobidiag, an emerging technology company focusing on DNA biochip for medical analysis.
By merging ST's microfluidics technology with Mobidiag's molecular microbiology expertise, the two companies plan to develop a complete system composed of biochip and accessory instrumentation for genomic-based detection of infectious diseases. They hope to introduce a commercial product to diagnostic labs in 2005.
Many in the field regard infectious diseases as "the killer app for biochips." The holy grail for biochip researchers is the development of a low-cost chip capable of sample preparation and pathogen detection, eventually allowing doctors and nurses in emergency rooms or clinics to determine the exact pathogen causing an infection. Improved diagnoses would also reduce the amount of antibiotics prescriptions, which tend to be a catch-all approach to infectious disease by ultimately contribute to drug-resistant diseases.
As a first step toward a "point-of-care" biochip application scenario, ST and Mobidiag are developing a system designed to provide clinical diagnostics laboratories with faster, cheaper and more user-friendly access to genomic-based techniques. They believe these techniques could revolutionize the way infectious diseases are detected and treated.
Anton Hofmeister, director of ST's Printhead and Microfluidics Business Unit, called the genomic-based detection of infectious disease "an emerging market." Under the agreement with Mobidiag, Hofmeister said, "ST will be the platform provider for all hardware, while Mobidiag will supply the diagnostic/assay content." Meanwhile, software will be developed jointly, he added.
The goal is to develop a silicon microelectromechanical system (MEMS) biochip solution that can reduce the cost and complexity of the diagnosis. Conventional laboratories now perform DNA analysis with large and costly equipment that can take several hours to complete.
"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. ST chose Mobidiag as its partner because it was "the only company with a clear vision of the applications and of our target market." He added, "We felt their method was the strongest from a commercial point of view."
Mobidiag, founded in 2000, provides diagnostic services to hospitals. To date, the company has developed biochip panels for respiratory tract infections as well as for life- threatening infections in hospital patients.
ST's alliance with Mobidiag is also based on ST's own experience in developing lab-on-chips. 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 temperature cycling. The PCR technique can be applied in a compact analysis tool that requires very small quantities of the costly reagents. Disposable cartridges ensure ease of use and greatly reduce the risk of cross-contamination of samples.
Before launching a commercial market, ST and Mobidiag plan to offer products initially to their development partners in 2004. Development partners are typically big hospitals that have their own molecular diagnostic labs so they can perform internal diagnostics when taking DNA samples rather than sending them to outside labs, explained Hofmeister. They include hospitals based in Finland as well as the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, Italy.
ST's biochip research team is based in Agrate, Italy.