The microarray space has thinned out, as Corning Inc. and Incyte Genomics Inc. have exited the arena, while Hyseq Inc. has moved into alliance with Affymetrix Inc. to develop high speed DNA sequencing chips.

The moves leave AFFX as the major dedicated array play. But the forces underlying realignment haven't disappeared, meaning that AFFX and other would-be players such as Agilent Technologies Inc. and Motorola Inc. still face challenges for growing the space.

In announcing his company's restructuring last week, INCY CEO Roy Whitfield characterized the array market as one of "eroding margins" that were no longer worth pursuing (see "Incyte: Two Messages", A4).

Although GLW (Corning, N.Y.) abandoned the array arena as part of a corporate restructuring, the opportunity clearly wasn't interesting enough to survive.

GLW's entrée was to produce a coated slide that labs could use to produce their own microarrays, and the company had planned to follow this product with its own line of arrays (see BioCentury, Feb. 26). The company will continue to sell its slide, but all other microarray-related activities have been stopped.

"We didn't want to make further investments in this fledgling business unit. It was a pilot project and we were just entering the scale-up stage," GLW spokesperson Rachael Finley told BioCentury.

Meanwhile, HYSQ - now Hyseq Pharmaceuticals Inc. - decided to collaborate rather than fight with AFFX under last week's settlement of a 1997 suit between the companies (see "Seeking New Ground" A5). According to HYSQ Chairman George Rathmann, "it was debilitating to wage a war on two fronts - biopharmaceuticals and the highly competitive chip business."

Rathmann told BioCentury that the possibility of complementing HYSQ's work with AFFX's technology led HYSQ to move forward with a "why fight'em when you can join'em" attitude.

The collaboration won't consume a significant amount of resources, added Rathmann, who said HYSQ "will not have to spend a lot of money to get to a sustainable place. We're not trying to be a microarray company for all purposes."

Commodity or not?

While chip consumers frequently describe arrays as commodities, chip makers say the picture is more complex.