This story originally appeared in Biocommerce Week, a newsletter that has been discontinued.
Applied Biosystems is gearing up to launch a new real-time PCR instrument intended to capture the low end of the research market through a smaller price tag and enhanced ease of use.
The launch of the StepOne RT-PCR system will be ABI’s first 48-well-plate instrument, joining the firm’s four other RT-PCR instruments. It will compete against several other low-cost platforms on the market — among them tools made by Bio-Rad Laboratories, Stratagene, Corbett Life Science, and Roche — but ABI is betting that its user-friendly features will help it take market share from competitors.
The primary differences between ABI’s four instruments are not the applications they target, said Chris Grimley, director of RT-PCR systems for ABI. “It’s really that we’re targeting this to people who are new to real-time PCR or maybe people who have been sharing an instrument, [such as] one down the hall that they have access to every now and again and their needs for real-time PCR have increased, so they want to get their own instrument.”
He told BioCommerce Week that the new system is particularly well-suited to academic labs, where users may change every couple of years.
According to ABI, the firm developed the system in response to what it sees as a growing number of researchers looking for low-priced RT-PCR systems to do basic research in gene expression, viral load, and SNP genotyping. Up until now, ABI conceded the low end of the market to its rivals in the RT-PCR instrument market.
“Our goal was to make it easy to use, and come in with a lower price point so people who are not quite as well funded would have access to the platform,” said Grimley. “Also, we didn’t want to compromise on quality, so we’ve made sure the kind of precision and sensitivity people are used to getting with the other platforms is still obtainable with this product.”
Focus on Price, Ease of Use
With a list price of $22,900 in the US, the StepOne is the lowest priced of ABI’s five RT-PCR instruments.
The other four RT-PCR systems range from the 7900HT Fast RT-PCR system that combines 96- and 384-well-plate compatibility, to the 7300 RT-PCR system, the 7500 RT-PCR system, and the 7500 Fast RT-PCR system, all of which target mid- to high-sample-throughput applications. Before the introduction of the StepOne, the 7300 system was the lowest priced model offered by ABI at roughly $34,900.
The primary advances of the StepOne system have been enabled by new software developed by the firm. “We’ve got various software versions on our other real-time platforms,” said Grimley. “But we still got feedback that people who were new to real-time PCR had difficulty getting up and running. So we put an awful lot of effort into the software and making it easy to use.”
“We’re targeting this [tool] to people who are new to real-time PCR or maybe people who have been sharing an instrument … and their needs for real-time PCR have increased, so they want to get their own instrument.”
He said that the StepOne asks the user questions to help them through the process as opposed to them having to learn the process stepwise. “It asks you simple questions as a user, and then it tries to automate as much of the work as possible,” said Grimley.
“For example, when you set up a plate the system will ask you whether you want to do TaqMan or Cyber Green,” he explained. “Another question would be, ‘Do you want one-step real-time PCR or two-step real-time PCR?’ And every time you answer these questions … it’s automatically going to adjust the thermal cycling parameters you see later on. It also asks if you want to run fast PCR, which is around 40 minutes, or more standard thermal cycling times, which is about an hour and a half,” he said.
Another option on the system is a reagents tracking feature, which could help drive greater consumables sales. But this isn’t the primary reason for the feature, said Grimley, even though “it’s a goal for the company” to increase sales of consumables, he said.
“We do have some software in the system, and it’s optional, so we’re not forcing customers into anything,” said Grimley. “It actually keeps track of what reagents we offer and use for that type of experiment, and it tracks it. So, if they want to print that out and order it [they can], or you can also connect directly to our web store by the software.”
But, he said, the “goal is to just make it very easy for people … and we think it’s very easy for them to order our reagents, but again there’s no locked tie-in. We’re just trying to facilitate the process, and if they take advantage of that then that’s great.”