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Buying Quantum Dot, BioPixels, Invitrogen Beefs Up Labeling and Detection Offerings

A week after CEO Greg Lucier said that Invitrogen plans to expand its presence in the cell-analysis space, the firm announced this week that it has acquired two businesses to do just that.

Invitrogen acquired Quantum Dot and the BioPixels unit of BioCrystal for undisclosed sums, providing the firm with labeling and detection technologies that will add to the portfolio of its Molecular Probes unit and beef up its growing cell analysis business.

The acquisitions follow a recent co-marketing pact with PerkinElmer, under which Invitrogen is supplying its Voltage Sensor Probes brand of ion channel reagents for use with PerkinElmer's CellLux fluorescence cellular screening platform (see BioCommerce Week 9/29/2005). Following that partnership, Lucier told attendees of the UBS Global Life Sciences conference in New York last week that the firm would expand its efforts in the cell-analysis field.

Quantum Dot's primary technology is its QDot semiconductor nanocrystals, which are micron-scale particles made from layers of semiconductor metals. According to Invitrogen, the particles demonstrate unique optical properties, such as photostability, narrow emission spectra, and brightness, and can be used in a wide range of applications in life-science research including gene expression and proteomics.

"I don't ever want to dismiss integration risk. I don't necessarily see a lot of risk in integration. I do always see risk in buying the wrong company."

In molecular and cell biology, researchers have been using Qdots as they would traditional organic fluorescent dyes or genetically engineered fluorescent proteins — by attaching them to cellular products such as proteins in order to track their movements or measure their interactions.

The technology, which is covered by 160 patents and applications worldwide, has been used in biochemical assays, such as those that measure protein-protein interactions, and to a lesser extent in live-cell applications. Scores of papers have now been published out of basic research laboratories on both applications, but scientists are still trying to work out how the nanocrystals might be used in high-throughput or high-content drug screening.

BioPixels makes coatings and metal alloys for semi-conductor nanocrystals that are applied to multicolor cell labeling, sorting, and imaging, as well as lateral flow immunoassays and fluorescent inks. Invitrogen said the combination of the technologies would enable it to create smaller, brighter, and lower toxicity particles that do not blink.

In addition to the acquisitions, Invitrogen licensed exclusive rights from Georgia Tech Research to a metal nanocluster technology, which the company said offers up to 10 times the fluorescence of semiconductor nanocrystals and enables "true single-molecule detection."

Terms of the Quantum Dot and BioPixels acquisitions were not disclosed, though Invitrogen said it would discuss the financial impact of the transactions during its third-quarter earnings call on Oct. 27.

Latest of Many New Additions

The acquisitions are the latest in a constant stream for Invitrogen over the past two years (see chart). The key focus of many of those acquisitions has been for Invitrogen to build its protein business with an eye on the molecular diagnostics market.

The most recent of those was the acquisition of Biosource International — completed last week — for $130 million in cash. Biosource sells proteins, antibodies, and reagents for cytokine and signal transduction assays, and is expected to bolster Invitrogen's proteomics offerings (see BioCommerce Week 7/28/2005).

"We needed to add more proteomics and protein capability, and BioSource gives us that," Invitrogen Chairman and CEO Greg Lucier said in July.

At the time, Lucier noted that there are a lot of competitors in the proteomics field that are bigger than Invitrogen. "We see lots of space for us to be a value-added contributor into that overall part of the research business," he said. "Our [protein-related] business now with BioSource is well north of $100 million and growing very fast, and it's one of our most important growth engines right now."

Invitrogen's 2004-2005 Acquisitions
Closing Date
Purchase Price
Quantum Dot
October 2005
October 2005
October 2005
$130 million
May 2005
$20 million
April 2005
$391 million
January 2005
$60 million
Bio Asia
December 2004
$8 million
DNA Research Innovations
October 2004
$35 million;
$65 million if milestones are met
May 2004
April 2004
$20 million
February 2005
$500 million

The Biosource acquisition also was a blow to Invitrogen rival Bio-Rad Laboratories, which had previously offered $82 million to purchase Biosource — a bid that was rejected by Biosource's board of directors.

While Invitrogen has made acquisitions at a remarkable pace this year, the Quantum Dot and BioPixels buys might not be its last this year. At the UBS Global Life Sciences conference in New York last month, Lucier said that it was likely the firm would seek to build its service business (see BioCommerce Week 9/29/2005). Invitrogen's service business is part of its BioProduction unit, which is composed of the GIBCO cell culture manufacturing business and the BioReliance contract service organization.

He said that as pharmaceutical firms come to rely more and more on outsourcing certain activities, the need for services such as those provided by its BioProduction unit will increase. However, Lucier said the company would not buy a contract research organization.

With more acquisitions will come more questions from customers and investors about integration risk and how the company can put all of these pieces together — a major concern for a firm selling itself to customers as a one-stop shop for integrated molecular biology tools.

Though Lucier said earlier this summer that he doesn't "ever want to dismiss integration risk," he does not "necessarily see a lot of risk in integration. I do always see risk in buying the wrong company." (see December 2004

$8 million Zymed
January 2005
$60 million Dynal
April 2005
$391 million Caltag
May 2005
$20 million

Lucier also said, ""Undoubtedly there are technologies we can add to enhance our ability to perform in this business model."" But for now, Invitrogen plans to aggressively pursue deals as an OEM supplier and take market share from the other reagent makers.

Invitrogen will let its larger diagnostic partners handle the regulatory process, while the firm sticks to its role as a supplier, according to Lucier.

The firm also plans additional collaborations on biomarkers, such as the partnership with the Mayo Clinic signed this past December (see BioCommerce Week 12/9/2004), and is negotiating a similar collaboration with a well-known, yet undisclosed, cancer research center. The company expects to announce that deal in the second half of this year.

Another major consideration for the firm in playing in the molecular diagnostics space is its sample-preparation portfolio, and this was the key reason Invitrogen purchased DNA Research Innovations and its ChargeSwitch nucleic acid-purification technology in October. With this technology, the firm is taking aim at competitor Beckman Coulter, which enhanced its own sample-prep abilities with the recent purchase of Agencourt Biosciences (see BioCommerce Week 5/5/2005).

Invitrogen also fired a salvo across the bow of competitors saying that its sample-prep technology can work well on a variety of molecular diagnostic platforms. ""There are a lot of different existing installed base platforms out there right now, and we want to put our chemistries across as many of them as possible, including entrenched competitors who might not necessarily want us to do that,"" Lucier said.

There are also plans in the works to collaborate with an established imaging technologies partner on molecular imaging products, though company officials wouldn't name any potential candidates.

In a somewhat unusual move, Illumina sent a representative to the meeting to provide an update on the oligonucleotide collaboration between Invitrogen and Illumina. The firms reiterated their plan to launch the platform, based on Illumina's Oligator technology, and snatch up market share by providing lower-cost oligos through Invitrogen's expansive customer base (see BioCommerce Week 12/23/2004).

Lucier suggested that the partnership with Illumina could command a 50-percent market share in the next three to four years. The firms will be competing with the likes of IVT, Sigma-Aldrich, and Operon Biotechnologies.

One other noteworthy piece of information that was revealed during the webcast was that Invitrogen is evaluating adding instrumentation to its offerings. During a Q&A session, Shawn Smith, director of Invitrogen's BioProduction unit, said, ""Do we want to have a specific application platform that's automated within our own offering? The answer to that is, 'Yeah.' I think that's inevitable. I think we have to have the ability to offer the complete offering. It's a broader product portfolio than just the chemistries exclusively.""

Company officials declined to elaborate on what kind of instrument that might be.

-- Edward Winnick


The rapid pace at which new technologies have been added to the firm's portfolio also presents a challenge for Invitrogen's salesforce. Lucier has said product managers and teams are being trained to focus horizontally, in other words, on bundling more and more products. He has also said that the firm could use more specialists in particular application areas.

A company spokesman told BioCommerce Week via e-mail, "Anytime you acquire a company or introduce new products it creates a challenge for our salesforce." He noted that Invitrogen has an integration team that educates the salesforce about new products, and added, "We have done enough of these that we have a strong process in place."

— Edward Winnick


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