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ABI s Plan To Drop Certain Reagent Pack Sizes Frustrates Small Sequencing Labs

Small DNA sequencing labs in the US recently had an unwelcome surprise from Applied Biosystems when the company told them it would discontinue a particular order size for a sequencing reagent, forcing these labs to either buy a smaller size at triple the cost per unit, or to buy in bulk and accept considerable waste due to the limited shelf-life of the reagent.

To be sure, the resulting price in either case might only be a few percent, or pennies per sequencing reaction. "But core facilities like us, and especially the small ones, are really pressed for keeping prices down," Peter Schweitzer, director of the sequencing core facility at Cornell University, told BioCommerce Week.

An ABI spokesperson said the firm was responding to consumer demand and buying trends, but the measure seems to have angered a number of smaller customers, according to a lively exchange of messages in the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities online discussion group last week. It also follows a steep jump in prices in the US for the same reagent about a year and a half ago, according to researchers.

"Core facilities like us, and especially the small ones, are really pressed for keeping prices down."

The reagent, a polymer called POP-7 manufactured by ABI for its 3730 and 3730xl DNA Analyzer sequencers, is currently sold in batches of 5, 15, or 30 bottles, according to an ABI spokeswoman. The company recently decided to phase out the 5- and 15-bottle offerings and has already introduced 1-bottle and 10-bottle packs in their place. The price per milliliter varies widely between these — for example, it is $35.40 for the 1-bottle pack, $12.60 for the 5-bottle pack, $11.80 for the new 10-bottle pack, and $7.90 for the 30-bottle pack.

The spokeswoman said the 5- and 15-bottle batches will no longer be sold once ABI's international stocking locations run out of their existing stock. It was not immediately clear when that would be.

"After reviewing customer purchasing trends, it was clear that 80-90 percent of all customers purchased two or more 5 [-bottle] packs, and we received numerous complaints from lower throughput customers that the 5-bottle [pack] contained too much [reagent]," the ABI spokeswoman told BioCommerce Week in an e-mail message. "Simply put, there was not enough demand for the 5-bottle option."

That's not the view of a number of smaller users, some of whom use POP-7 not only on the 3730 instruments for which the reagent was made, but also on the earlier 3100 and 3130 models. "We cannot go through a 10-pack box, and we would have to throw away anything that's unusable after the expiration date," Michelle Detwiler, who runs the DNA sequencing lab at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, told BioCommerce Week. The price for single bottles, on the other hand, "will be prohibitive," she added.

At the moment, POP-7 contributes about 5 percent to the $1.40 cost of running a single sequencing reaction in his lab, according to Schweitzer, who has been ordering the 5-bottle pack. While his lab is large enough to be able to move up to the next size without having to put anything to waste, that might not be an option for smaller users like Detwiler.

Their possible solution: setting up purchasing cooperatives. "To make it as economical as we can, we are thinking [about] a regional distribution center or just private collaborations, and we will share a box," said Detwiler.

Although ABI recently said it would focus on increasing its revenues from consumables (see BCW 4/14/2005), this is not the case here, according to the spokeswoman. "These pricing changes are a part of normal product portfolio management and are not a component of Applied Biosystems' emphasis on creating revenue through consumable sales," she said.

— Julia Karow ([email protected])

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