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Looser Pharma Budgets Buoy Proteomics Tool Vendors

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After several years of frozen business with pharmaceutical firms, proteomics tool vendors are cautiously optimistic that demand from that market may be on the rise again.

No one is saying there’s been a return to the free-spending days of the late ’90s and early ’00s — a time that tool vendors recall with dewy fondness  — and most are loath to predict how long the upward spending trend may last.

But as the second-quarter earnings season drew to a close, officials from some companies said they were seeing a pattern of looser spending by pharma, particularly for front-end research and development applications.

“We’re seeing continued improvement in demand from our large pharmaceutical customers, a market segment that you remember was under pressure for most of the past couple of years,” said Douglas Berthiaume, CEO of Waters, during a conference call accompanying the release of the company’s second-quarter earnings results. Berthiaume cites a bounce-back in Waters’ pharmaceutical business as reason number one for the 17 percent rise in the company’s overall sales and an 18 percent climb in sales of instruments with proteomics applications.

“From businesses associated with orders for new high-resolution mass spec systems to the replacement of older HPLC systems to the replacement of network information systems, the entire range of our product offerings benefited from this healthier spending environment,” he continued.

It is a far cry from just a year ago, when he and his fellow CEOs were lamenting the effect of pharma spending on their bottom lines. During Waters’ second-quarter earnings call last year, Berthiaume called pharma spending, or the lack thereof, a “depressant to our overall sales growth rate.”

And last fall, Tony White, interim president of Applied Biosystems and CEO of parent company Applera, characterized the global pharma picture as “mixed.”

Tony Fong

Short Reads

The US Patent and Trademark Office issued a notice of allowance for Proteome Sciences’ isobaric mass labeling technology patent application. Once the patent is granted, companies such as Applied Biosystems and PerkinElmer, whose iTRAQ reagent and ExacTag mass tags are based on isobaric mass tag technology, will have to pay licensing fees, Proteome Sciences says.

SomaLogic and Archemix expanded their agreement for developing aptamers for therapeutic, diagnostic, and other uses. Archemix has the exclusive right to the therapeutic use of aptamers for a limited number of targets, whereas SomaLogic has the rights to the ex vivo applications of aptamers.

Agilent will be providing the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver with proteomics, genomics, and metabolomics technologies under an agreement to give applications-focused training in systems biology. Agilent will provide a number of LC-MS platforms, its 1200 Series HPLC, LC columns, as well as GeneSpring and SpectrumMill software.

The Hanover, Germany-based Digilab Biovision has received ISO 9001:2000 certification for its peptide biomarker research services and collaborations business.

Bruker BioSciences said revenues rose 21.1 percent during its second quarter while profits jumped 95.6 percent. The company’s proteomics business grew at about market rate.

Patents

US Patent 7,256,395. Method and apparatus for improved sensitivity in a mass spectrometer. Inventors: Bruce Collings, Mircea Guna, Hassan Javaheri, Alexandre Loboda, and Bruce Thomson. Assignee: Applera and MDS. Issued: August 14, 2007.

According to the patent abstract, this device reconfigures the inlet aperture of the mass spectrometer through which the ions pass to improve ion transmission from their source to the mass analyzer. “The configuration of the inlet aperture forms a sonic orifice or sonic nozzle and with a predetermined vacuum chamber pressure, a supersonic free jet expansion is created in the vacuum chamber that entrains the ions within the barrel shock and Mach disc,” says the abstract.

US Patent 7,256,394. Target support and method. Inventors: Dan-Hui Dorothy Yang, Jennifer Lu, Ying-Lan Chang, and Timothy Joyce. Assignee: Agilent Technologies. Issued: August 14, 2007.

The device described by this patent provides analyte ions for detection and includes a matrix-based ion source, a transport system, and a downstream ion detector to track the ions.

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