GR lab SCMM launches first test

September 27, 2009
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The Sequenom Center for Molecular Medicine could grow out of its laboratory space within the next year, the director said following this month’s announcement of the company’s first test.

With two other tests expected to launch soon — and despite a delay on Sequenom Inc.’s much anticipated Down Syndrome test — lab director Dr. Daniel H. Farkas said he expects the SCMM will outgrow its 3,200 square feet in the West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative in Grand Valley State University’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences in downtown Grand Rapids. Administrative offices are located at the downtown Arena Station building.

“We’re excited about the new tests we’re going to add to the menu and we’re simply going to need more space,” Farkas said. “We’re going to run out of space and we’re kind of landlocked where we are right now.”

Sequenom earlier this month announced the launch of its SensiGene CF Carrier Screening Test, which is applicable to a more diverse set of people than the genetic tests for cystic fibrosis already on the market. The San Diego-based company estimated the market for the test at $300 million.

In the company’s last quarterly conference call with analysts, Sequenom CEO Harry Stylli was upbeat about upcoming tests for Rh factor and gender, expected by the first quarter of 2010. The tests use maternal blood samples, a simpler procedure than amniocentesis.

Sequenom last fall bought the Center for Molecular Medicine, established as a joint venture between Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Institute. The lab has the needed federal certification to process tests on humans, unlike Sequenom’s lab in California.

The company received state and municipal tax breaks in exchange for a promise to create more than 500 jobs in Grand Rapids over five years.

The two upcoming tests are “based on our break-through technology detecting circulating cell-free fetal nucleaic acid in a mom’s bloodstream,” Farkas explained. “The baby sheds DNA into mom’s blood, and we just take a blood sample from mom’s arm.”

In April, Sequenom announced that clinical test data for its Down syndrome test, expected to be a major advancement, had been mishandled, and its stock dropped by about 75 percent in one day. Spokesman Ian Clements said the investigation is continuing. The company said it would run additional tests to re-assess the SEQureDX’s effectiveness.

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