By Randall Osborne

As a way of making its GeneChip technology available to more than 320 academic and not-for-profit researchers, Affymetrix Inc. has entered into a subscription-based supply agreement with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

The two-and-a-half year deal gives HHMI, of Chevy Chase, Md., broad access to the expression monitoring probe arrays, without restricting publication of results or changing rules about the ownership and commercialization of inventions. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Affymetrix gets up-front subscription fees and fixed per-chip fees, with a volume commitment by HHMI.

Researchers are expected to use more than 2,000 GeneChip probe arrays and analyze millions of data points during the term of the agreement, which is based on Affymetrix's EasyAccess pricing, modified for academic customers.

The deal is unlike the 1995 arrangement under which Whitehouse, N.J.-based Merck & Co. established a complementary DNA library and gave any interested party unrestricted access to all generated sequence tags and databases. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 29, 1994, p. 1.)

But GeneChip data could fall into hands not intended by Affymetrix, since scientists from HHMI are scattered in more than 50 academic sites across the country, said Mary Ann Gray, an analyst with Raymond James & Associates, of St. Petersburg, Fla.

"This is going to be awfully tough to police," said Gray (formerly with SBC Warburg Dillon Read Inc., of New York). "Is it all going to be kept internal? Probably not."

Although some academic institutions hosting HHMI scientists may have collaborations with Affymetrix's competitors, any major unauthorized sharing of GeneChip data would soon become obvious, Gray said.

"The labs won't give the chip to anybody," she said. "What they may do is give results, but I think it would be a relatively minor type of thing. An incident here and there may go unnoticed."

Overall, Gray said, the move makes good business sense for Affymetrix.

"There are all sorts of grad students and post-doctorates who may go to work for companies some day," she said. "Affymetrix may get some new applications out of it."

The HHMI agreement is not Affymetrix's first foray into academia. Last year, the company joined Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of Princeton, N.J., to establish a consortium to sponsor a five-year, $40 million research program in functional genomics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge. (See BioWorld Today, April 30, 1997, p. 1.)

GeneChip consists of disposable DNA probe arrays with gene sequences on a chip, reagents, a scanner and other instruments to process probe arrays, along with software to analyze and manage information.

Affymetrix's stock (NASDAQ:AFFX) closed Wednesday at $32.875, up $1.75. *