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Invitrogen Targets Mass Spec Market In Co-Marketing Pact with Rival ABI

Aiming to expand its reach to mass spectrometry users, Invitrogen has launched a line of proteomics kits and reagents and has partnered with life-science rival Applied Biosystems to co-market products to the mass spec market.

The alliance is the latest in a series of acquisitions and partnerships that have pushed Invitrogen into new markets and set the stage for what the company hopes will be significant revenue growth both near and long term.

The firms announced the collaboration at the American Society for Mass Spectrometry Conference in San Antonio this week. Both firms also introduced several new products for the mass spec market (see table in this issue).

Competition for the new kits and reagents could come from an alliance forged by Bruker Daltonics and German firm Serva Electrophoresis that also was announced at ASMS. Those companies inked a deal to co-market and sell Serva's Isotope Coded Protein Label for quantitative proteomics (see briefs in this issue).

For Invitrogen, the collaboration and the launch of related products — Invitrosol LC/MS and Invitrosol MALDI solubilizers, Max Ion protein and Max Ion peptide MALDI matrices, and Invitromass HMW and LMW calibrants — mark the firm's first big push into the mass spec arena.

Before the alliance, Invitrogen had only a couple of commodity-type products, such as solubilizers, for the mass spec market, according to Cheri Walker, Invitrogen's vice president of proteomics. "We did have one or two products that were used by mass spec operators, but we really didn't have a big sales push," she told BioCommerce Week.

Under the co-marketing pact, the companies will jointly sell ABI's iTRAQ and ICAT protein and peptide labeling reagents, and Invitrogen's new SILAC protein identification and quantification labeling technology. Terms also call for ABI to support Invitrogen's SILAC (stable isotope labeling by amino acids in cell culture) technology with software on its TOF/TOF mass spectrometers and to extend software support for the labeling technology to other mass spec types.

In addition, the companies said they will co-develop and co-market protein sample-preparation kits for mass spec, as well as other reagents such as matrices, solubilizers, and calibrants.

Invitrogen spokesman Greg Geissman told BioCommerce Week that the firm had evaluated several potential partners, but ABI was "a great fit from the instrumentation side."

The collaboration is "a nice balance because Applied really brings this expertise they've had in the field for a long time," he said. "Invitrogen brings the customer base in biology that has an interest into moving the proteomics experiments into mass spec."

"I think what we're doing with proteomics as a whole is we're trying to build our portfolio so we have more serious proteomics tools and a broader portfolio — maybe some more structural types of tools," said Walker. "We really want to do more brand awareness," so customers think of Invitrogen as a proteomics tool provider as well as a genomics company.

Indeed, the firm has made several moves to expand its presence in the proteomics market over the past couple of years, including the acquisition last year of protein array manufacturer Protometrix, the licensing of several protein-chip patents from Zyomyx, and the purchase earlier this year of reagent and protein array manufacturer Zymed (see BioCommerce Week 1/13/2005).

She noted that ABI has the largest installed base of proteomics-based mass spec instruments, but what they're looking for Invitrogen to do is "take all three of the tagging technologies to the biologist, standardize the biologist's workflow, and make [them] easy and accessible to the biologist, and to lead them to the mass spec market."

The plan for Invitrogen after getting an exclusive license to the SILAC technology was to "turn that into an easy-to-use kit for customers and then combine it with a wider portfolio of calibrants, solubilizers — more technologies that are used on the mass spec," said Walker.

When asked about the Invitrogen-ABI collaboration, Victor Fursey, director of sales and marketing at Bruker, told BioCommerce Week sister publication ProteoMonitor, "Does [the collaboration] mean they're not satisfied with their own products?" He added, "We think we have a very viable, cost-effective solution with ICPL."

Invitrogen licensed the SILAC technology from Rockefeller University and has been working on the technology for the past nine months to a year, according to Walker. The metabolic labeling technology enables identification and quantification of the relative abundance of proteins in two different samples with expression changes as low as 30 percent with coefficients of variation as low as 8 percent in a wide range of cell-culture workflows, according to Invitrogen.

Walker said the firm would continue developing "more products for biologists to help them get quantitative data and better identification of unknown proteins, and those would include product line extensions for SILAC." She added, "You could imagine fine-tuning them with primary antibodies targeted to specific types of proteins."

Invitrogen's foray into the mass spec market is a natural fit for the firm's strategy of diversifying its product offerings — a critical factor in helping to drive consistent revenue growth in the molecular biology tools space.

Asked to discuss the company's estimates for the size of the market for kits and reagents for mass-spec applications, Walker said that "it's still a fairly small but growing market. But you could imagine, replacing the 2D [gel] technologies. Looking at the size of the 2D market — the potential market could be quite big — over $100 million over time." She declined to elaborate.

Invitrogen, which has been able to avoid the cyclical slumps faced by other tool firms by sticking to reagents and other consumables, has hinted that it may eventually add instruments to its offerings (see BioCommerce Week 2/10/2005). But don't expect the mass spec instrument market to be an area it dabbles in.

"Where we have a market leader like ABI that you can partner with, it doesn't make sense for Invitrogen to try to enter that instrumentation market," Walker said. "I think if it made sense, we wouldn't shy away from having instrumentation."

— Edward Winnick ([email protected])