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Aiming for New Customers, Cellomics to Take Over Service for Beckman s Cell Imaging Instruments

Beckman Coulter is still seeking a buyer for its cell imaging product line, but in the meantime it has signed on Fisher Biosciences unit Cellomics to provide service and maintenance for instruments that have been placed with at least a dozen customers.

Cellomics is hoping the pact will provide it with access to a larger pool of academic clients as well as a steady revenue stream and opportunity to sell complementary reagents. It also may provide Cellomics with an opportunity to eventually supplement or replace Beckman's IC 100 with a Cellomics instrument.

The primary reason for the pact is to offer services to Beckman's customers, but it "offers us the ability to reach these additional customers with service agreements and potentially reagents and other products," said Judy Masucci, director of marketing for Cellomics.

The firm, however, is not interested in buying or licensing the imaging technology outright from Beckman at this time. Masucci told BioCommerce Week that buying the IC 100 was not part of the discussions with Beckman.

"The agreement is only for service," she said. "I do not know if Beckman has plans to sell the technology. It wasn't anything we discussed with them."

The agreement, which is indefinite, also includes the IC 100's predecessor, the EIDAQ 100 High-Throughput Microscopy System.

"It benefits us to get more information about their needs and how we can develop future products. It's our goal to support them with both service contracts currently and hopefully new products in the future."

"It is our intention to service these customers going forward and gain their feedback," said Masucci. "They're primarily academic customers, and while we also have a number of academic customers ourselves, it's a different market than the traditional [high-content screening] market. So, it benefits us to get more information about their needs and how we can develop future products. It's our goal to support them with both service contracts currently and hopefully new products in the future."

She said the agreement also would provide an opportunity for Cellomics to sell both its own reagents and kits designed specifically for high-content screening applications, as well as siRNA reagents from Fisher unit Dharmacon, to these new customers.

Last November, Beckman shuttered its San Diego-based Cell Analysis and Development Center — which housed R&D and service for the IC 100 high-content screening technology that Beckman acquired along with startup Q3DM in late 2003 (see BioCommerce Week 11/24/2005). Beckman's decision to stop marketing and selling the product line was part of a sweeping reorganization begun last summer that is nearing its conclusion, Beckman officials recently told BioCommerce Week (see BioCommerce Week 5/24/2006).

"We are looking to see if there would be anybody interested in the intellectual property, as well some of the product itself — particularly the software, which many people feel has advantages over other analysis software," Karen Bezold, director of research cytometry for Beckman Coulter, said this week.

She told BioCommerce Week that if Beckman doesn't find a buyer, the firm could license the technology to another firm. "But, as we are not moving forward with the business, it would be best for it to find a permanent home," Bezold said.

In the meantime, Bezold said that Beckman would continue to be involved in servicing the instrument for several months before Cellomics takes over full time.

The IC 100 is one of the higher throughput automated imagers on the market. However, the inventor of the instrument, Jeffrey Price, who is an associate professor at the Burnham Institute and an adjunct professor at the University of California, San Diego, is developing a next-generation cytometer that he hopes will be 10 times faster than the IC 100.

This may be one reason why other vendors of cell imaging instruments — such as GE Healthcare, Thermo Electron, PerkinElmer, and Molecular Devices — have not snatched up the IC 100 technology.

One academic HCS user, who wished to remain anonymous due to his relationships with several vendors, told BioCommerce Week sister publication Cell-Based Assay News last week that service contracts for instruments such as the IC 100 or Cellomics' ArrayScan or KineticScan tend to cost approximately 10 percent of the instrument cost per year. Most HCS readers of this kind cost between $200,000 and $400,000, or anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 per year per user in service revenue.

There are estimated to be approximately a dozen IC 100 users, according to various Beckman officials and parties familiar with the instrument platform. Using these estimates, that translates to anywhere from $240,000 to $480,000 in service revenues per year.

Masucci said Cellomics would not comment on the number of current IC 100 users, "but service revenue is an ongoing thing. It's not a huge dollar amount per customer, but it's ongoing," she said.

"Service revenue is part of it, hopefully future reagent revenue stream is another part of it, and really, it's our desire to support and grow the HCS market," said Masucci. "We don't want these customers to be abandoned and be a negative arm on the growth of the HCS market. We want them to have a future in HCS."

— Edward Winnick ([email protected])

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