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Molecular Diagnostics Invitrogen, Building Dx Play, Welcomes Competition

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Invitrogen, aiming to expand into the molecular diagnostics market, made a deliberate splash in the field at this year’s annual BIO meeting, held in Chicago. Three out of the seven sessions at which the company had speakers centered around diagnostics.

Todd Nelson, vice president of corporate development at the life sciences powerhouse, said at a molecular diagnostics session that what is now competition from small, private shops will eventually become “collaboration” opportunities for Invitrogen, which has grown in size and scope in recent years by adhering to a diet of steady acquisitions.

In fact, Invitrogen disclosed one such collaboration during the conference — a deal with Germany’s Signalomics to develop nanocrystal reagents to identify tumors in vivo in patient tissue. The agreement continues a joint development program between Signalomics and the BioPixels business unit of BioCrystal, which Invitrogen acquired in October 2005.

Invitrogen’s interest in the molecular diagnostics industry has been building over the past couple of years and the company has made a string of acquisitions to bolster that play. In particular, its purchases of Molecular Probes in 2003 and its acquisitions of Dynal, Caltag, and BioSource last year were made with an eye on grabbing a chunk of the molecular diagnostics market.

The firm furthered this goal in January when it realigned its BioDiscovery unit into two divisions, Life Sciences and Enabling Technologies. The Enabling Technologies division, which now primarily targets the research market, will focus on nanotechnology, imaging and microscopy, cell separation and analysis, labeling and detection, bead-based separations, and the firm’s antibody center of excellence.

At BIO, Nelson said he was “thrilled” that privately held companies have been developing technologies to play in a space for which Invitrogen is gunning. Specifically, he said he was glad that as these companies grow, they are transferring the “burden” of risk to venture capital companies — and presumably off of potential suitors — which will enable them to develop a wide array of diagnostic technology.

To be sure, Nelson’s remarks do not necessarily signal that Invitrogen has a molecular diagnostics acquisition in the breach. But while Invitrogen remains tight-lipped about its plans for this arena, Nelson said that one area of interest for the company could be “enabling” pharmaceutical companies that want to partner with diagnostic shops to develop companion drug-diagnostic products, or so-called theranostics. According to Nelson, this is an area of “exceptional growth.”

— Kirell Lakhman

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