OTTAWA, Ontario - A new biochip fabrication facility, which eventually will commercialize and market advanced biochips and related analytical technologies, is being established in Ottawa by GeneFocus Inc., of Waterloo, Ontario, and the Institute for Biological Sciences (IBS) and the Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences (SIMS), two Ottawa-based research institutes of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

GeneFocus CEO Ted Dixon told BioWorld International that a letter of intent has been signed with the NRC for a collaborative project that will result in the development of technology involved in all aspects of the fabrication and reading of biochips. As the project evolves, a new for-profit enterprise will be created. Initial customers for the new company are expected to be in the Ottawa area, but the intent is to develop the automation and volume manufacturing infrastructure needed to supply microarray demand, initially inside Canada, and later for the world market, he said.

In addition to producing genetic microarrays for commercial sale, the facility will work with scientists at the NRC to resolve the technical issues facing this early stage technology. The company is expected to bring together partners in several technology areas, such as biochemistry of DNA, surface chemistry, fluorescence chemistry and imaging, microfluidics, robotics, chip integration, quality control and bioinformatics. In addition to being a source for microarrays, the facility will showcase Canadian technology and provide a beta-test site for new technology development.

For its part, the NRC will establish a biochip technology research group to support the facility. Scientists from both IBS, which performs innovative research in neurobiology and immunochemistry, and SIMS, whose focus is long-term interdisciplinary research in selected areas of molecular science, will be involved in the group.

Dixon said combining the existing expertise at IBS and SIMS with the fluorescence imaging expertise in GeneFocus will give the new biochip company a unique competitive advantage, which is expected to generate a world-class player in the DNA microchip market.

GeneFocus is a division of Biomedical Photometrics Inc., of Waterloo. BPI has commercialized a patented confocal scanning beam imaging system developed at the University of Waterloo. The GeneFocus Division was formed in 1998 to develop imaging instruments for genetic microarrays. Products include the DNAscope II, an automated high-sensitivity biochip imaging system, and MACROview, an software analysis program for reading fluorescence microarray images.