This story originally appeared in Biocommerce Week, a newsletter that has been discontinued.
Over the past couple of years, many firms that sell capital equipment for life science applications have noted the enormous revenue opportunity for selling those instruments into a variety of applied markets, such as food, water, and environmental testing.
As firms have begun to realize revenue from this opportunity, PerkinElmer last week launched the first in a planned series of instruments developed specifically for these applied markets. The firm’s Melamine Analyzer has been designed to test the presence of melamine, a nitrogen-rich industrial chemical that has found its way into the food chain and was the cause of renal failure and death earlier this year among pets that had ingested food containing the chemical.
PerkinElmer’s new analyzer is based on the firm’s Clarus 600 T Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer, one of two new Clarus instruments launched by PerkinElmer in July. According to Alessandra Rasmussen, strategic program director for PerkinElmer, the new instrument “is the first commercially available analyzer specifically for melamine.”
The analyzer is targeted “to everyone around the food supply chain,” Rasmussen told BioCommerce Week. “This analyzer can essentially be used on all things from the farm basically all the way to fork.”
She said the melamine analyzer contains “all of the key components,” such as the libraries and the software.
“It’s, in a sense, a plug and play,” said Rasmussen. “Once the unit has been installed, the customer has the ability to take the CD that comes with all of the software and therefore all of the libraries, plug that in, and be up and running basically once the installation is completed.”
PerkinElmer developed the Melamine Analyzer in collaboration with Flora Research Laboratories, an independent lab that specializes in testing natural products. The US Food and Drug Administration contracted Flora to help develop a method and an analyzer for melamine using GC/MS. Rasmussen also noted that the FDA recently issued the standard method for melamine testing based on GC/MS.
“Consumers today are … very concerned about the amount of product that gets imported in the US from other countries, and the expectation, rightfully, is that the standards that are applied to products in the US are being applied to products that are being imported.”
Rasmussen said the firm could not provide a market estimate for the new analyzer because melamine is a relatively new contaminant. However, she said PerkinElmer estimates the whole food safety industry as it relates to analytical technologies is around $800 million to $900 million and growing at a rate of about 6 percent.
PerkinElmer expects “everyone will be testing for it along that food chain,” because melamine has become such a big public health concern, she said. The firm anticipates the analyzer will be sold to agricultural firms, food customers, and third-party certifier labs that provide melamine analysis as a service.
Rasmussen declined to disclose pricing, but said it will fluctuate based on the country in which it is sold. She said PerkinElmer does not yet have any orders for the Melamine Analyzer, but anticipates receiving orders and shipping instruments before the end of this year and expects “significant growth” from sales of the instrument.
“This week and next week we’re spending two weeks in China hosting a food safety seminar with our own experts and consultants from the FDA,” she said. “We’ll be talking about this analyzer as well as many other products that we have.”
However, Rasmussen was quick to point out that “this isn’t a China issue. This is a global issue.”
She noted that the European Commission website has a list of products that were not allowed into the EU due to melamine contamination, and those products are coming from all parts of the world.
She said the Melamine Analyzer is the first in a series of analyzers that will be released later this year and next year. However, while Rasmussen declined to name the specific contaminants the new products will target, she said they will be focused on food, product, and water safety.
Rasmussen was among PerkinElmer staffers who recently provided testimony to the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety in Washington, DC. She said discussions about food safety focused specifically on melamine contamination, but she also noted the growing discussion about the safety of imported toys.
“Consumers today are … very concerned about the amount of product that gets imported in the US from other countries, and the expectation, rightfully, is that the standards that are applied to products in the US are being applied to products that are being imported,” said Rasmussen.
PerkinElmer is certainly not the only analytical technologies firm that is selling instruments and chemistries for melamine testing. Its primary competitors in the life science tools market, including Agilent Technologies, Waters, and Applied Biosystems, all sell instruments that can be used to test for melamine and a variety of other contaminants in food, water, and the environment.
“I would have to believe that our competitors are monitoring this space as well as we are,” said Rasmussen. But, “PerkinElmer is taking a very targeted approach at developing analyzers, such as the Melamine Analyzer, to address the specific crises and challenges that are now cropping up,” she said.
There are currently two other approaches used for melamine detection, said Rasmussen. The first uses liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry. The other uses gas chromatography with mass spec, but “the difference here is the industry that has been doing testing for melamine in the past has essentially been the chemical and plastic industry, because that’s where it’s used.”
An Agilent spokesperson told BioCommerce Week via e-mail this week that the firm offers customers two options for melamine testing. The first is a GC/MS product based on Agilent’s 5975C, which is used for screening large numbers of samples for melamine and its derivatives.
The second approach is an LC/MS-MS product based on Agilent’s 1200 Series LC and 6410 triple quadrupole mass spec. According to the spokesperson, this is designed for labs that aim to quickly detect trace amounts of melamine or derivatives in a wide range of matrixes. He said it provides a simple sample prep procedure and provides confirmation and quantitative results.
Recognizing the revenue potential of the applied markets, PerkinElmer rival Waters last year acquired food safety kit maker Vicam. At the time of the acquisition, Waters said Vicam’s immunoaffinity columns could be used with its high performance liquid chromatography, Ultra Performance LC, and mass specs.
In addition, Waters recently released an LC/MS/MS based method to specifically detect melamine and ammeline that allows for the analysis to be completed in less than two minutes, James Willis, managing director of chemical analysis for Waters, told BioCommerce Week via e-mail. The method is based on the combination of Waters’ Acquity UPLC and Acquity TQD benchtop tandem quadrupole mass spec.
ABI, along with its joint venture partner MDS Sciex, offers customers an LC/MS/MS system that is based on the API 3200 instrument, a relatively low-cost, quantitative system that has a run time of less than 10 minutes. ABI-MDS Sciex sells the system as a stand-alone product or with the Cliquid Software for routine food testing.
Despite this competitive market, Rasmussen believes PerkinElmer is uniquely positioned to win over customers.
“We have internal resources and external collaborations focused on developing these specific analyzers for markets,” she said. “Our understanding of the market and the requirements for the testing is fairly deep as it relates to food safety, and water quality is the same thing, as compared to what a competitor could potentially offer.”