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Building on Vidiera Line, Beckman to Launch Next-Generation Molecular Dx Platform in 2010

Beckman Coulter is in the early stages of developing its next-generation molecular diagnostics instrument and is planning a 2010 launch for the new platform, a company official said last week.
 
Though Beckman Coulter has been involved in the diagnostics field for many years, its introduction to the molecular diagnostics market came last year when it unveiled its Vidiera instruments. Since then, those instruments have been laying the groundwork for the launch of Beckman’s next-generation platform, which was made possible after the firm acquired a biomedical sample-prep technology and forged licensing deals with Applera and Roche.
 
Beckman Coulter’s plan is to develop and launch the new platform “around 2010,” said Jay Steffenhagen, senior vice president of the firm, speaking at the Piper Jaffray Health Care Conference in New York last week.
 
According to Steffenhagen, it will be a fully automated system, enabling a technician to load a sample, press a button, and get a rapid result. He also said the system’s primary market would be hospital labs.
 
During his presentation, he didn’t provide any further details on the platform. Bernhard Spiess, Beckman’s director of molecular diagnostics testing, told BioCommerce Week via e-mail this week that the new platform would be faster and easier to use than the Vidiera and other current molecular diagnostic instruments.
 
Laying the Groundwork
 
Beckman jumped into the molecular diagnostics market last year when it launched its Vidiera NsP and NsD instruments, which can be purchased separately but were designed to work in concert. The NsP is a sample-prep instrument, while the NsD is the nucleic sample-detection system based on the firm’s capillary electrophoresis technology.
 
While those instruments helped the company enter the molecular diagnostics market, a few key moves over the past two years have provided Beckman Coulter with the technologies it believes are necessary for the new platform.
 
First, the firm spent $140 million to acquire Agencourt Bioscience in April 2005 (see BioCommerce Week 5/5/2005). That acquisition provided Beckman with two notable technologies. The first was Agencourt’s next-generation sequencing technology, which Beckman subsequently sold to Applied Biosystems (see BioCommerce Week 5/31/2006).
 
But the second, Agencourt’s Solid Phase Reversible Immobilization (SPRI) technology, was crucial to Beckman’s plans for the molecular diagnostics market. The SPRI technology isolates and purifies DNA and RNA and was developed for sample-preparation processes in both biomedical research and molecular testing.
 
Earlier this year, Beckman President and CEO Scott Garrett called the SPRI technology a “key element of our plan for growth in molecular testing.” (see BioCommerce Week 2/22/2006)
 
Another step that was important for Beckman’s molecular diagnostics strategy was a settlement earlier this year with ABI over litigation related to DNA sequencing and thermal cycler technologies. As part of that settlement, Applera granted Beckman licenses to its patents for nucleic acid sequencing and real-time PCR thermal cycling for use in the diagnostics market.
 
Beckman followed that agreement two weeks later with a worldwide licensing deal with Roche, which granted Beckman the right to use Roche’s real-time PCR patents in the diagnostics field in exchange for $27.5 million in cash plus royalties (see BioCommerce Week 7/19/2006).
 

Beckman officials said the new platform would be a fully automated system, enabling a technician to load a sample, press a button, and get a rapid result.

At the time of the Roche pact, Beckman spokesman Paul Whitlock told BioCommerce Week that the ABI intellectual property would enable the firm to develop the new molecular diagnostics platform, while the license from Roche would cover development of the RT-PCR assays. He also noted that the firm would seek US Food and Drug Administration clearance of products it develops under those licenses.
 
Post-Restructure Rebound?
 
Steffenhagen also noted during his presentation that Beckman has completed the major part of its restructuring and shift in sales policy, which was announced over a year ago, and that a fair comparison of the company’s financial results would come in the fourth quarter, which would mark a full year since the changes.
 
In July 2005, Beckman announced the restructuring and related measures, which included laying off 350 employees — or 3 percent of its workforce — and a shift in its sales focus to leasing instrumentation rather than pursuing sales of big-ticket items (see BioCommerce Week 7/28/2005).
 
As part of the restructuring, Beckman shut down its San Diego-based Cell Analysis and Development Center and stopped marketing its IC 100 high-content screening platform (see BioCommerce Week 11/24/2005).
 
The restructuring and shift in sales policy “has really paid off for us,” Steffenhagen said at the conference last week. “We lived through the pain and now we’re out of it.”
 


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He said that since a full four quarters has elapsed since the shift to operating-type leases was implemented, this year’s fourth quarter would provide the first appropriate comparison of financial results and evidence that the moves had paid off.

 
Up until the third quarter of this year, Beckman’s revenues had consistently lagged behind the previous year’s results as the firm adjusted to the changes (see graphic). But in the most recent quarter, its revenues rebounded, rising 6.3 percent to $631.2 million. Beckman attributed the revenue gains to increased sales of consumables, particularly in Europe and, to a lesser extent, in the Far East.
 
During the quarter, the company completed its acquisition of Lumigen, a developer of high-sensitivity detection chemistries and clinical diagnostics, for $185 million.

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