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FujiFilm Steps Into North American Research Market, But Hopes for Molecular Dx Future

This story originally appeared in Biocommerce Week, a newsletter that has been discontinued.
CHICAGO – FujiFilm has entered the North American life sciences research market, announcing this week at the Pittcon Conference here that it has begun selling a line of nucleic acid-extraction devices in the US.
The firm’s nascent life sciences business is targeting the low end of the market, but it is planning for a future in the molecular diagnostics market in the US, company officials told BioCommerce Week.
FujiFilm, which competes with GE, Siemens, Philips, and Hitachi, among others in the medical imaging space, has chosen to take a decidedly lower-key approach to the molecular diagnostics market than some of those rivals.
FujiFilm’s Life Science Products division has been around since roughly 1990 and has sold products for both life science research and diagnostics in Japan over the past several years. But as the parent company has sought growth drivers amid a rapid decline in traditional film products, it sees the US as a large and untapped market for its products.
FujiFilm is beginning its efforts in the US with the launch of its QuickGene nucleic acid extraction and purification instruments and consumables. At the center of its offerings is the QuickGene Mini80, a toaster-sized instrument that it is selling for $1,000.
The firm is targeting the low end of the market, in which researchers use more manually intensive methods to extract and purify DNA and RNA, said Yasuhito Momoki, engineering manager for FujiFilm’s Life Science Products division. It even comes with whimsical stickers that allow users to personalize their instruments with cartoon eyes and mouths.
The instrument requires no centrifugation in the extraction process, and according to Momoki, the key to the system is the firm’s patented membrane for the cartridges. The ultra-thin membrane, which borrows from technology initially developed for Fuji’s film business, enables a high yield of nucleic acid at low pressure and in shorter time than glass fiber membranes, the company said.
The instrument can process eight samples at a time in as little six minutes for DNA isolation in whole blood and 20 minutes for RNA isolation in blood cells. Fuji also has developed a variety of corresponding isolations kits for samples from DNA, blood, cell, and tissue.
Though FujiFilm has a large sales organization, its Life Science Products division does not have the critical mass it needs to sell products in North America. As a result, the firm has signed on Holliston, Mass.-based AutoGen, which sells DNA and RNA isolation systems, to market and distribute the QuickGene products in North America.
Molecular Dx in Its Sight
Though FujiFilm is initially targeting the sample-prep part of the research market, its long-term plans are to sell its products in the regulated diagnostics market in the US. The firm is currently developing a diagnostic instrument to go with the sample prep system, but Momoki and Masahiro Etoh, operations manager for the Life Science Products division, declined to provide more detail. Fuji has sold a bioanalyzer in Japan for over a decade.
“We would like to collaborate in the diagnostics area,” said Etoh. “We already started a collaboration, but I cannot say” with which company, he told BioCommerce Week. The Fuji officials also did not provide a timeline for when they expect to enter the molecular diagnostics market.

FujiFilm’s approach to the molecular diagnostics market is in stark contrast to other medical imaging firms, such as Siemens and GE Healthcare, which have both in the past year inked deals to acquire large, established in vitro diagnostic players with molecular diagnostic offerings.

FujiFilm’s approach to the molecular diagnostics market is in stark contrast to other medical imaging firms, such as Siemens and GE Healthcare, which have both in the past year inked deals to acquire large, established in vitro diagnostic players with molecular diagnostic offerings.
Earlier this year, Siemens completed its $5.25-billion acquisition of Bayer Diagnostics, which immediately made the imaging giant a top-three molecular diagnostics player and one of the world’s biggest in vitro diagnostics player (see BioCommerce Week 7/5/2006). That deal followed its acquisition earlier last year of Diagnostics Products Corp. for nearly $2 billion.
GE Healthcare answered that challenge from its closest rival by signing a deal last month to acquire Abbott Diagnostics for $8.13 billion in cash, which will make GE one of the world’s largest in vitro diagnostics players (see BioCommerce Week 1/24/2007). For GE, the acquisition is a key part of its strategy to fuse in vitro and in vivo technologies to focus on an “early health model.”
GE’s acquisition of Abbott Diagnostics, however, does not include that firm’s molecular diagnostic operations. And GE has remained mum on whether it will seek an acquisition or alliance with an established molecular diagnostics firm or choose to employ technologies currently used for research purposes that it acquired along with Amersham in 2004.
Meanwhile, other imaging firms such as Philips and Hitachi are developing molecular imaging technologies and have signed collaborations in the research tools space. But neither of those firms has elucidated their plans for the molecular diagnostics market or whether they even intend to enter the space.

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