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Beckman Targets Rivals ABI, GE, Agilent With Gene-Expression Product Launch

In its ongoing quest to delve into new markets, Beckman Coulter has introduced a high-throughput quantitative gene-expression instrument, taking aim at a market dominated by Affymetrix and joining many others who have flooded the space over the past few years.

The introduction of the GenomeLab GeXP fits in with previous comments from Beckman CEO Scott Garrett, who shortly after being promoted from president this March said that entering new market segments would be part of the company's strategy to achieve double-digit earnings growth (see BioCommerce Week 3/31/2005).

The launch also will pit Beckman's marketing muscle against many established gene-expression players and a variety of newcomers, as well as help solidify Beckman's place in the growing molecular diagnostics space.

The GenomeLab GeXP Genetic Analysis System runs gene expression experiments via scalable, multiplexed PCR. According to the firm, the system can run two 96-well plates in 24 hours and examine the expression of 20 to 35 genes in a single reaction per well.

Fullerton, Calif.-based Beckman also said the system is capable of working with smaller gene sets and operates at a fraction of the cost of a standard RT-PCR system. In addition to gene expression, the GenomeLab GeXP can perform sequencing, heterozygote detection, SNP detection, STR, visualization, AFLP, and LOH.

Noreen Galvin, business manager of Beckman Coulter's GenomeLab family of products, told BioCommerce Week in an e-mail exchange that the GenomeLab GeXP "is built on capillary electrophoresis technology, the backbone of our CEQ 2000XL, 8000, and 8800 systems."

Fulfilling a Promise and Entering a Crowded Market

According to Galvin, the product launch marks Beckman's first entry into the gene-expression market with a dedicated portfolio of hardware, software, and reagents.

Soon after taking over as CEO, Garrett said Beckman would try to improve its market share in molecular testing, remote AIDS monitoring, prion testing, and cell imaging. He added that the company was on the lookout to acquire DNA and protein-based chemistries, create new immunoassay alliances, and buy smaller complementary technologies.

The firm wasted no time acting on that plan, announcing in late April that it would buy Agencourt Bioscience, a DNA sequencing services provider that also is working on a next-generation sequencing instrument and Solid Phase Reversible Immobilization technology for isolating and purifying DNA and RNA (see BioCommerce Week 5/5/2005).

With the launch of the GenomeLab GeXP, Beckman is taking on dominant market leader Affymetrix, Agilent, ABI, GE Healthcare, and CombiMatrix. It also will be competing against newer, quantitative gene-expression technologies such as those made by Illumina, Solexa, and Sequenom.

But Galvin doesn't see the traditional microarray players as competitors. "We offer a quantitative gene-expression solution — [so, for example], we don't view Affymetrix as competition." She said that the new gene-expression system offers an advantage over current technologies because it is "multiplex, high-throughput, [and] cost-effective," though she did not offer a comparison of cost versus other gene expression technologies.

One of its primary competitors in the quantitative gene expression field will be Sequenom. The financially beleaguered firm announced earlier this year that it would expand its presence in the gene-expression market through the launch of an enhanced software package. Sequenom released its quantitative gene expression technology, based on its MassArray platform, in 2004.

The San Diego-based firm is familiar competition for Beckman, which acquired Orchid Biosciences' genotyping tools business two years ago, taking aim directly at Sequenom, Illumina, and ABI (see BioCommerce Week's sister publication Pharmacogenomics Reporter 1/17/2003).

The primary technology acquired by Beckman was Orchid's SNPstream platform, which was folded into the GenomeLab family of products in July 2003. That family of products also includes Beckman's gene sequencers, and now the gene expression instrument.

Targeting Molecular Diagnostics

While gene expression is not likely to be a cash cow for Beckman, the firm already has a leg up on many of its competitors in the gene-expression space, who are planning their entry or future growth in the molecular diagnostics industry — a market estimated at $1 billion to $2 billion currently, and growing at a roughly 20 percent annual clip, according to some estimates.

Beckman has a strong presence in the clinical diagnostics market — particularly clinical chemistry, immunodiagnostics, and hematology — from which it currently derives 71 percent of its revenue, CEO Scott Garrett recently told attendees of the Banc of America Securities Health Care Conference in Las Vegas (see BioCommerce Week 5/26/2005). The firm is targeting the molecular diagnostics market with its Vidiera NsD instrument, and Garrett said the firm expects high growth next year from the instrument.

— Edward Winnick ([email protected])

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