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Competing LC/MS Systems Take Center Stage at Pittcon as Agilent, Waters Try to Woo Customers

Orlando, Fla. — Agilent and Waters both staked claims to sell the best liquid chromatography/mass spectrometer system this week at Pittcon 2006, trying to sell customers on improved productivity and cost-savings.

For Agilent, its presentation on Monday here was an opportunity to show off its new 1200 Series LC system and the 6000 Series LC/MS portfolio, which includes two new mass spectrometers that have yet to ship. For Waters, its presentation, also on Monday, was a chance to unveil its new Acquity SQD UPLC/MS system and share examples of how customers have benefited thus far from using the platform.

While several other BCW Index firms launched new products at Pittcon, Agilent and Waters drew big crowds to their presentations, eager to hear about the LC/MS systems. The rivalry between the firms has heated up as Agilent has publicly stated its goal to overtake Waters as the top LC vendor.


Agilent has "a commitment to become a major LC/MS player," said Taia Ergueta, general manager of Agilent's proteomics, metabolomics, and LC/MS business. She said the company is making the necessary investments and developing a portfolio to address any application that these systems cover — and company officials estimated that the new 6000 Series already covers 90 percent of potential applications in LC/MS.

Waters believes the highly competitive generic-drug market is a prime segment for the Acquity SQD system.

Chris van Ingen, head of Agilent's Life Sciences and Chemical Analysis business, noted that a MALDI-TOF mass spec is the only piece missing from its LC/MS platform right now. He said the firm is focused on building its franchise and did not rule out potential acquisitions as a way to add to its product line.

Agilent is aiming to double its market share in the LC/MS market, which the firm estimated at $1.3 billion. It is banking on the products introduced and showcased this week to get it there.

The 6000 Series includes five different mass spec options: the 1200 Series single quad, the 6210 TOF, the 6300 Series ion trap, the 6410 triple quad, and the 6510 TOF. The last two mass spec instruments have yet to hit the market, with the 6410 triple quad expected to ship in August and the 6510 TOF expected to ship in September.

The 6000 Series also includes the recently introduced 1200 Series LC, the higher-resolution, higher-speed successor to the 1100 Series LC instrument.

"We perceive it as something that can compete with the Acquity, but it's better," Christina Maehr, launch coordinator for the 1200 Series LC, told BioCommerce Week in January (see BioCommerce Week 1/25/2006). "The Agilent 1200 provides every type of chromatography you want to do. We can do the prep scale, we can do nano, we can do standard, we can do capillary, and we can do high-speed, all on the same platform. That's a huge advantage," she said.

One of the ways in which Agilent believes it will gain market share is through lower prices for its mass spectrometers. The firm lists the 6410 triple quad/LC at $205,000, a price it claims is 30 percent to 50 percent lower than competing instruments.


Meanwhile, Waters introduced its Acquity SQD system at Pittcon. The system consists of Waters' Acquity UPLC and the new SQ detector, a single-quad atmospheric pressure ionization mass detector. According to Waters officials, the new system starts at a list price of under $160,000.

The firm has already signed up Thermo Electron and Bruker Daltonics to integrate their respective mass spectrometers with the Acquity UPLC. Both Thermo and Bruker have alliances with other LC vendors to integrate their MS instruments — Thermo with Agilent, GE Healthcare, and Dionex; and Bruker with Agilent and Dionex.

Bruker officials were quick to point out during a Q&A session following their presentation this week that they offer an "open platform" for LC/MS applications. Though Waters apparently made a gaffe in announcing the news of their alliance before Bruker approved the disclosure, Bruker intends to announce the collaboration with Waters soon.

Molecular Dx on the Minds of Pittcon Attendees

Agilent, PerkinElmer, and Bruker officials were all asked during Pittcon Q&A sessions what their firms' respective plans were for the molecular diagnostics market.

Chris van Ingen, head of Agilent's Life Sciences and Chemical Analysis business, said that the firm's growth initiatives are primarily in integrated biology, and part of that includes leveraging its integrated biology products into molecular diagnostics. Agilent already sells a homebrew cholesterol test and expects to seek US Food and Drug Administration approval for the test sometime in the future.

PerkinElmer, meantime, has the world's largest prenatal genetic screening business, and it intends to keep its clinical diagnostics focus in that area, according to Robert Friel, vice chairman and president of the firm's life and analytical sciences business. However, PerkinElmer also sells the BioXpression biomarker-identification system, which it views as a key growth driver.

Bruker Daltonics President and CEO Frank Laukien said that his firm was focused on using its mass spec instruments for clinical proteomics and biomarker identification, but at some point in the future the firm may come out with kits for multiple applications, which could include diagnostics.

— EW

Waters, which does not have an extensive mass spec product line, views the collaborations as a necessary strategy for expanding its market share as well as an endorsement of the Acquity system. "I think this is going to make many customers who may be on the fence about UPLC recognize that a company that has HPLC within their offering, and that's Thermo, has put a vote of confidence for UPLC technology," Gene Cassis, Waters' vice president of investor relations recently told BioCommerce Week (see BioCommerce Week 3/8/2006 ).

Waters expects to announce additional similar collaborations this year, according to Rohit Khanna, vice president of worldwide marketing for Waters.

Brian Smith, senior director of pharmaceutical/life science market development at Waters, told the audience that the firm will pursue "dramatic expansion" of the Acquity UPLC product line that "competitors can only dream of."

Smith pointed to productivity issues as a key selling point for the Acquity UPLC system. He cited a clinical research organization that tripled its throughput using UPLC, which increased both productivity and profitability. This "cannot be matched by ultra-fast LC," he said.

In addition, Smith said Waters believes the highly competitive generic-drug market is a prime segment for the Acquity SQD system.

The new systems introduced by Agilent and Waters were perhaps the most notable products of many launched by both of the firms, as well as BCW Index rivals Thermo Electron, Bruker Biosciences, PerkinElmer, Beckman Coulter, and Bio-Rad. Many of the products were focused on industrial applications, but several crossed over into healthcare and other applied markets (see table for a list of Pittcon product launches).

The firms had a massive audience to show off their wares. By the end of Tuesday's session, Pittcon organizers had counted roughly 8,500 people manning the various booths and 7,000 non-exhibitors.

— Edward Winnick ([email protected])

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