This story originally appeared in Biocommerce Week, a newsletter that has been discontinued.
Applied Biosystems and joint venture partner MDS Sciex will launch a new mass spec-based platform later this year aimed primarily at pharmaceutical labs doing absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME) profiling.
Although ABI officials are touting the speed advantages of the new platform over currently used instruments, the firm believes its system will act more as a complement than a replacement to those tools. An ABI manager also told BioCommerce Week that since the platform is unique and potentially “game changing,” the company expects a gradual uptake in the market.
The ABI/MDS Sciex joint venture said this week that it would commercialize a first-of-its-kind mass spec platform combining a triple quadrupole instrument with MALDI. The new platform, called FlashQuant, is aimed primarily at pharmaceutical labs conducting early-stage drug discovery research.
According to ABI, in testing, the platform has delivered a 25-fold increase in speed for small molecule quantitation compared with the fastest liquid chromatography-coupled triple quad mass spectrometers. The firm said the speed of the new system enables researchers to generate the same volume of data as current methods in a fraction of the time.
“We expect to target [FlashQuant] to all big pharma and mid-sized pharma, because it not only offers high throughput but faster turnaround to get data in a shorter amount of time,” said Tamara Bond, director of ABI’s pharma business. “We’re not looking at it as broadly applicable. We’re very much targeting it to a smaller sub-segment” of the market, she told BioCommerce Week.
However, Bond believes the market could extend beyond those users. “I think academics may want to look at it,” she said. “The first target market we’re focusing on is the pharmas for early discovery and ADME workflows. We could imagine that [for] academics who can afford the system and are looking for exploring new ways to utilize it, that this is really offering a combination of technologies they’ve never had before.
“We’re really hoping that with people being able to get their hands on this technology and to utilize it, we are going to see many more applications talked about in the field by users,” she said.
Bond also said that a small number of CROs that are working in early drug discovery could be a target market, though for those customers she said the firm’s API 4000 and API 5000 LC-MS-MS systems are usually a fit for their work.
Speed Won’t Come Cheap
The market for the platform may be somewhat limited by its steep price tag. The FlashQuant add-on will sell for between $300,000 and $350,000, according to Bond. But customers also will have to buy an API 4000, which lists for $395,000, or an API 4000 Q-trap, which lists for $430,000.
“It’s not a cheap system, but we do think that it’s going be a tremendously valuable tool for pharma companies to really change the way they do things,” said Bond.
ABI expects to begin shipping the FlashQuant in the fall. The firm will be showing off the platform at the American Society for Mass Spectrometry meeting at the beginning of June, and will have it on display at its demonstration facilities in the summer, said Bond.
The timing of the launch may seem curious, given that most mass spec manufacturers wait until ASMS to announce new launches. But Bond said, “This is not something that has been a kept secret, in terms of our proprietary ownership of this space and the fact we’ve been putting MALDI on the front of triple quads.”
She noted that the ABI-MDS joint venture holds a patent covering the use of triple quad mass spectrometers with MALDI. The firm intends to keep the rights to that patent for its own uses and will not license rights to others in the field, which will limit competition.
ABI/MDS Sciex had been researching the use of a triple quad MS-MALDI system “for a number of years,” she said. “We wanted to let people know that this [now] would be commercially available.
“It’s not a cheap system, but we do think that it’s going be a tremendously valuable tool for pharma companies to really change the way they do things.”
“We wanted to start the education process early and begin talking about this and use events like ASMS and the events in the fall to continue what we think is going to be an education process to look at how this can fundamentally change how ADME labs are addressing their bottleneck issues,” she said.
“We understand that it’s a considerable price and they’re going to want to really become educated and think about if they’re going to implement it in their lab,” said Bond. “We understand that they have buying cycles, they have budgetary cycles, and they also have business cases they have to put together.”
All of these considerations have led the company to be conservative in its sales projections. Bond would not provide a market estimate, but said, “It’s game-changing and different. We understand that people are going to have a lot of questions, and we want to use every opportunity to provide them answers.”
However, Bond sees the FlashQuant as complementary to the instruments currently used for ADME profiling. She noted that labs are currently using LC-MS-MS — LC combined with a triple quad in most cases — for the applications targeted by FlashQuant.
“This is a system we see as complementary to that, rather than competing with that,” said Bond. “Although this is very fast, LC separation still has benefits for getting rid of complex matrices, as well as really being able to get down to very low-level sensitivity.”
She said the FlashQuant will be used for “mid-level sensitivity assays, which are the majority of assays, and ones that don’t have a lot of complex matrix interferences ... whereas the LC-MS-MS systems can be reserved for the harder assays.”
The FlashQuant is built upon the API 4000, and the FlashQuant workstation is interchangeable back to a traditional LC-MS-MS configuration, said Bond. “That’s something a customer can do. It doesn’t require a service engineer or anything like that,” she said, pointing to one of the selling points of the new system.