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Bio-Rad Unveils Protein-Purification System At Pittcon; Q4 Revenues Increase 12 Percent

This story originally appeared in Biocommerce Week, a newsletter that has been discontinued.
 
CHICAGO Building off of recent acquisitions and product launches, Bio-Rad Laboratories further bolstered its protein research portfolio this week by introducing its Profinia protein-purification system.
 
The instrument and related consumables and software are targeted at larger labs that are focused on time efficiency but cannot afford the more expensive liquid chromatography systems for conducting protein purification, Tanis Correa, a senior product manager for Bio-Rad’s laboratory separations division, told BioCommerce Week at the Pittcon Conference held this week in Chicago.
 
The product launch follows two acquisitions Bio-Rad made last year that it expects to provide a major boost to its protein-research portfolio.
 
Bio-Rad also announced last week that despite continued weakness in sales to the academic research markets in the US and Japan, its fourth-quarter revenues increased 12 percent while profits rose 24 percent year over year.
 
Building the Protein Business
 
The launch this week of the Profinia protein-purification system is the latest of several moves by Bio-Rad over the past year to broadly expand its protein-research tools portfolio. The automated system fills a need for a system between the time-consuming and cheaper manual kits and the higher-priced LC-based systems, according to Correa, and offers “unprecedented speed and simplicity.”
 
She said Bio-Rad would primarily target customers that use manual kits, the components of which Bio-Rad has been selling.
 
The Profinia instrument is sold as a stand-alone system, but can be purchased with consumables, including IMAC and GST starter kits, and comes with optional software. Correa said the pre-programmed methods minimize the level of expertise necessary for conducting the purification process.
 
Though Bio-Rad intends to offer the Profinia system solely as an up-front purification system, Correa said the firm may work on developing products that integrate the system with the firm’s newer products for the functional protein research market.
 
One of those products came from Bio-Rad’s acquisition in early 2006 of Israel-based ProteOptics (see BioCommerce Week 3/1/2006). Bio-Rad has already capitalized on that acquisition by launching a protein-interaction array system, called ProteOn, which ProteOptics was developing.
 
The other major addition to Bio-Rad’s protein tools business came through its $20 million deal in August to buy Ciphergen’s proteomics instrument business, including the SELDI technology (see BioCommerce Week 8/16/2006).
 
Nelson Cooke, division marketing manager for Bio-Rad’s laboratory separations division, said during a presentation at Pittcon that the SELDI technology provided a “perfect complement for [Bio-Rad’s] electrophoresis and chromatography workflows.”
 
Asked during the firm’s fourth-quarter conference call last week whether Bio-Rad intended to remain active on the M&A front in 2007 and about the current valuations for acquisition candidates, Bio-Rad President and CEO Norman Schwartz reiterated what he has said over the past year.
 
“We all continue to be surprised with the prices that some of these things are going for,” he said. “Having said that, I think there do continue to be opportunities that we are regularly looking at and [the firm is] encouraged by what we see and what we might be able to do.”
 
Q4 Revenues Rise Despite Academic Weakness
 
Bio-Rad reported that its revenue for the three months ended Dec. 31, 2006, increased to $343 million from $307 million year over year. Revenue for the company’s Life Science division rose 13 percent to $159 million, while receipts from the Clinical Diagnostics segment increased 11 percent to $180 million.
 
Bio-Rad said Life Science sales were “boosted by a number of factors including significant growth in protein expression analysis, process chromatography, and amplification reagents,” and by the acquisition of Ciphergen Biosystems’ tools business last year.
 
However, its Life Science business continued to be negatively affected by weak sales to academic research customers in the US and Japan, continuing a trend noted in the firm’s third-quarter conference call (see BioCommerce Week 11/8/2006).
 
“With a lot of money being siphoned off for the war effort, there is not as much to go around in the research-grant funding area” in the US, Schwartz said during the firm’s fourth-quarter conference call. “The important part is to understand that underlying this overhang is fundamentally a strong and healthy business, in which we will continue to invest throughout 2007.”
 
Bio-Rad’s Clinical Diagnostics sales were up over the entire segment, but “most notably” from blood virus products and in quality-control products, as well as its MRSASelect chromogenic media for detecting methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus
 
Company officials suggested during the conference call that the firm would continue to focus on traditional in vitro diagnostics, and they are not worried by current or impending competition from molecular diagnostic MRSA assays from Becton Dickinson and Qiagen.
 

“We all continue to be surprised with the prices that some of these [potential acquisitions] are going for. Having said that, I think there do continue to be opportunities that we are regularly looking at and [the firm is] encouraged by what we see and what we might be able to do.”

“Our strategy right now is in the traditional plating area,” said John Goetz, Bio-Rad’s vice president and group manager, during the conference call. “There is definitely room for both techniques, and I think from a pricing standpoint we have an advantage over a [nucleic acid testing] approach.”
 
Bio-Rad’s fourth-quarter profit increased to $16.6 million, or $.61 per share, from $13.5 million, or $.50 per share, in the year-ago period. This year’s results include $4.1 million in charges for purchased in-process research and development related to the acquisitions of Ciphergen’s SELDI business and Blackhawk. The previous year’s fourth-quarter results included $19.8 million in impairment expenses.
 
The firm’s R&D spending increased to $37.4 million from $31.1 million year over year.
 
For full-year 2006, Bio-Rad generated revenue of $1.27 billion, up 7.9 percent from revenue of $1.18 billion in 2005. The firm posted a profit of $103.3 million, or $3.83 per share, compared with net income of $81.6 million, or $3.06 per share, for 2005.
 
Its R&D spending increased to $123.4 million in 2006 from $115.1 million in 2005.
 
During the year, Bio-Rad settled two significant legal battles, the first of which was with bioMerieux in the second quarter that resulted in Bio-Rad gaining an additional $11.7 million in royalties and licensing fees.
 
The other settlement was a year ago between its MJ Research division and partners Applied Biosystems and Roche (see BioCommerce Week 2/15/2006). That squabble, over thermal cyclers, had cost Bio-Rad at least $50 million in judgments, lost revenue, and settlement costs, but the firm said this week that sales of the instruments had returned to previous levels.
 
“Clearly, we went back on the market fairly aggressively to take care of our customers, and we were successful in doing that,” said Brad Crutchfield, vice president and group manager of Life Sciences. “We are essentially back where we wanted to be or we expected to be now. This is an important area for us, and we are moving ahead with new product development plans in the area of amplification, both in reagents and the instrument side,” he said.
 
Bio-Rad finished the year with around $488 million in cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments as of Dec. 31.
 
Company officials predicted mid- to high-single-digit revenue growth for 2007. They also said they expect further declines in the BSE testing business.
 
Bio-Rad officials said three things would affect operating margins in 2007: the $11.7 million bioMerieux settlement, which was a one-time event in 2006; a $10 million to $15 million decline in its BSE business’ profitability; and $2 million in integration expenses from the three acquisitions the firm made in 2006. These items will keep operating income below 2006 results, they said.
 
Investors reacted negatively to the forecast, sending Bio-Rad’s shares down 6.9 percent to close at $76.50 on Friday, the day after the conference call.

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