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Reagents ABI buys Ambion's reagent biz for $273 million

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Ambion has been around for 17 years, but the decision to sell it came down to 30 seconds, recalls Bruce Leander, president of the Austin, Texas-based company. Leander says that last July, Ambion founder Matt Winkler stepped into his office and was mulling over the idea of starting up a diagnostic company, and wondering how to get funding for it. "He said, ‘What do you think about selling Ambion?'" Leander says. "I thought about it for half a minute and I said, ‘I think that's a great idea.'"

Leander says the company had been approached repeatedly in the past about the possibility of selling, but until Winkler's vision for a diagnostic company, there hadn't been a reason to make a deal. Now, Leander says, "the proceeds from the sale of Ambion will be used to help fund Matt's company." That company will take the form of Asuragen, which will be made up of two of the three divisions that comprised Ambion: the diagnostics group and the microarray service group, which together consist of about 100 people.

The remaining 300 people who made up Ambion's consumables division will become employees of Applied Biosystems, which forked over $273 million to stake its claim after a four-month sales process that culminated in competitive bid submissions. The deal, which was signed early on Christmas Eve, was expected to close by the end of this month. "We looked at fit, size, and complementarity of product lines," says Leander, adding that there's "essentially no overlap" between the companies' offerings.

From ABI's perspective, the purchase of Ambion's reagent business was a big step in developing a robust consumables division. "We're looking at the consumables space as an area for growth strategically," says Peter Dansky, vice president and general manager for molecular biology consumables at ABI. "You really didn't have to look very far to find the best company out there."

ABI and Ambion weren't exactly strangers. The companies have had a comarketing agreement in the RNAi and real-time PCR realms, Dansky says. "We've been looking at them for some time" as a potential partner or acquisition target. As that unit of Ambion folds into ABI, it will add to what Dansky calls "an intensive internal program" aimed at growing the company's reagent offerings.

No layoffs are expected after the acquisition closes, says Leander, who will join ABI as a vice president and general manager. The Ambion-turned-ABI is slated to stay in Texas. "We have a significant commitment to Austin," Dansky says. "We see Ambion going forward as a center of excellence in our consumables business. We hope to do even more there." — Meredith Salisbury