New WEHI spin-off to produce genetic mutation detector

By Tanya Hollis
Thursday, 21 February, 2002

A cheap tool kit to detect genetic mutations is expected to be the first product for the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's latest spin-off, Gene-Flow.

The Parkville institute is currently finalising documentation for the company, and is working with a venture capital group to raise about $1 million.

WEHI scientists Dr Karl Poetter and Dr Simon Foote developed the technology together with a team from the Australian Genome Research Facility in Queensland.

The company is the first WEHI spin-off to benefit from the institute's recent commercialisation drive, led by the appointment last year of Dr Amanda Caples as head of business development.

Caples said the institute would provide Gene-Flow with facilities under a research services agreement with the aim of cost recovery plus margin.

She said WEHI would also reserve the right to use the technology for teaching and other non-commercial purposes.

Caples said that while the size of the market was largely unknown, it was estimated to be worth $20 million to $100 million in sales to the biomedical and agriculture industries.

She said it was hoped Gene-Flow would have its first product on the market within two years.

"The key difference between this and other technologies for mutation detection is that others are expensive and don't all have high throughput," Caples said.

"The technology we're developing is fairly simple and can be used by just about any research lab because the instrument required to perform the technology is a standard flow cytometer, which can be found in most labs.

"The key challenge is to produce a kit that provides accurate information at a reasonable cost and we think that we should be able to do that."

Gene-Flow's major competitor is expected to be US company Sequenom. But Caples said Sequenom's technology required a mass spectrometer that could cost more than $500,000.

She said Gene-Flow's technology was expected to have other applications down the track, however it planned to use its first capital raising to produce a cheap tool kit that would be sold to laboratories.

"We're looking at two tranches of $500,000 which will be used to optimise the technology and once that has been done, we see the company manufacturing reagents for genetic research."

Brisbane group Orbit Capital is handling the venture capital raising, which is expected to be finalised by March.

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