By Charles Craig

Perkin-Elmer Corp.’s Applied Biosystems Division, whose automated gene sequencing machines are the industry standard for identifying human genes, is moving beyond the role of products supplier into the business of selling its own information on gene discoveries.

To accomplish the change in business strategy, Perkin-Elmer, of Norwalk, Conn., purchased from Keygene N.V., of Wageningen, the Netherlands, a method of analyzing — in a single assay that takes two hours to run — all the genes expressed in a cell.

Called amplified fragment-length polymorphisms (AFLP) technology, the science was developed by Keygene for mapping plant genomes and was later adapted for analysis of gene expression patterns in cells.

Perkin-Elmer acquired the technology in a takeover of Keygene’s affiliate, GenScope Inc., which was formed to develop AFLP technology for human and animal health care applications. Keygene will continue to work with Perkin-Elmer on applying the technology for agriculture uses.

Perkin-Elmer will establish GenScope as a separate business unit focused on integrating AFLP technology with Applied Biosystems’ automated gene sequencing technology.

“[GenScope] has the science,“ said Steve Lombardi, director of Perkin-Elmer’s genetic analysis unit in Foster City, Calif. “We have the technology for high-throughput automation.“

Mark Zabeau, who developed AFLP technology, will head the Perkin-Elmer GenScope Division.

Lombardi said Perkin-Elmer has not disclosed terms of the GenScope acquisition or the initial investment for commercializing the technology.

In describing Perkin-Elmer’s new business strategy, Lombardi said genomics companies come in two varieties.

There are genomics technology firms — such as Human Genome Sciences, of Rockville, Md., Sequana Therapeutics Inc., of La Jolla, Calif., and Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass. — that use their genetic information to develop drugs.

And there are genomics service firms — such as Incyte Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif. — that sell the genetic information to pharmaceutical companies to make drugs.

Perkin-Elmer’s Applied Biosystems, Lombardi said, has been a products company, supplying its ABI sequencers to all those companies and most others that practice genomics.

“Now we’re going to be a genomics products and service company,“ Lombardi said.

In the field of gene expression analysis, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Affymetrix Inc.’s GeneChip technology has generated the most excitement. Expression patterns of 1,000 genes are identified in a single experiment. To snag activated genes in a diseased tissue, for example, the expressed gene sequences in those cells are isolated and washed over a small chip containing known, complementary sequences.

However, in any cell, Lombardi noted, thousands of genes are expressed. The AFLP system, using polymerase chain reaction technology, captures fragments of every gene whether it is known or not.

“Our technology allows you to find genes you didn’t know existed,“ he added.

Applied Biosystems, which is headquartered in Foster City, also is developing informatics software to go along with the GenScope technology so researchers can compare their expressed sequences to those in data bases around the world to determine which are known and which are discoveries.

One problem in genomics research, Lombardi said, is “there are a lot of different data bases that don’t talk to each other. We’re creating an operating system for everyone to talk to each other.“

Perkin-Elmer, of Norwalk, Conn., purchased Applied Biosystems in 1992. Perkin-Elmer’s stock (NYSE:PKN) closed Friday at $73.00, down $1.25. *