By Randall Osborne

To put its "lab on a chip" technology on the market, Caliper Technologies Corp. signed an agreement worth $100 million with Hewlett-Packard Co.

"For us, it's turning a major page of our business plan," said Michael Knapp, founder and vice president of science and technology for Palo Alto, Calif.-based Caliper.

Privately held Caliper and Hewlett-Packard's Chemical Analysis Group, also of Palo Alto, will invest $20 million over the next year and $80 million in the four years after that, in order to further develop and commercialize Caliper's LabChip system, which uses liquid integrated circuitry to create complete chemical processing systems on a microchip.

The companies will spend $100 million over five years, Knapp said.

"For a long time, people haven't understood what [LabChip] means," Knapp said. "A lot of people still don't. We went quite a distance toward creating a product that embodies our vision of a sophisticated personal laboratory work station that is functionally a different instrument, depending on the nature of a disposable microchip that goes in it."

Caliper scientists "sometimes talk about [the system] as a Nintendo player for the laboratory," he said. "It's about the size of a toaster. You put the chip in there, close the top and interact with the computer."

Data derived from the chips, in digital form, may be stored in databases, retrieved through networks and shared by researchers.

On its own, Caliper — which has collaborations related to LabChip with Hoffman-LaRoche AG, of Basel, Switzerland, and The Dow Chemical Co., of Midland, Mich. — was pushing a version of LabChip that uses "canned chip applications" toward market.

"We have prototypes, and we're just beginning to enter what might have been a 'beta' phase [of development]," Knapp said. "We've decided to integrate that into the deal with Hewlett-Packard. For us to achieve the biggest vision, we always knew we needed a partner."

Caliper Gets LabChip Patent Allowances

Earlier this month, Caliper said notices of allowance had been issued on five LabChip patents.

Hewlett-Packard already has a collaboration with Affymetrix Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., for development of Affymetrix's GeneChip technology, which analyzes DNA sequences. Affymetrix has a collaboration with one of Caliper's partners, Roche.

Vince Dauciunas, business development manager for Hewlett Packard, said there is no overlap in the deals.

"A chip is not a chip is not a chip," Dauciunas told BioWorld Today. "Although all these people are working in miniaturized formats, the technologies are aimed at different things."

The Affymetrix collaboration involves DNA arrays, as might be used in mutation analysis. "We build the reader systems for Affymetrix," Dauciunas said.

LabChip is "more general in purpose, where you're moving around liquid for biological analysis," he said. "You could be moving around small molecules or biological samples, through the application of electronic fields. It's essentially electrochromatography."

Caliper's system is for such applications as DNA sequencing and high-throughput screening. The latter is the subject of Caliper's October 1996 partnership with Roche.

"You can do it smaller, faster and cheaper, with fewer reagents and consumables," Dauciunas said.

Both parties agreed not to specify how much cash will be contributed by each to the deal, but Caliper is not without resources, Dauciunas said.

"They've been very handsomely funded," he added.

Caliper raised $8.5 million in an October 1996 private financing that included an investment by Roche. Another private financing last summer netted the company $20 million. (See BioWorld Today, July 24, 1997, p. 1.) *