NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – With the launch last year of two US Food and Drug Administration-cleared mass spec microbiology platforms, microbe identification has emerged as one of clinical proteomics' most prominent success stories.
Now, recent moves by Waters and Danaher could send ripples through this corner of the field.
Specifically, Waters' acquisition this month of MediMass' rapid evaporative ionization mass spectrometry (REIMS) technology suggests that the company – after a failed attempt roughly a decade ago to popularize MALDI MS-based microbial identification – is interested in taking another pass at mass spec-based clinical microbiology.
Additionally, Danaher's acquisition this month of Siemens' clinical microbiology division gives it assets that could prove useful were it to decide in the future to pursue mass spec-based microbiology. The deal could also affect Bruker's strategy in this area. One of two firms – along with BioMérieux – to offer an FDA-cleared MALDI platform for clinical microbiology, Bruker has had a co-marketing agreement with Siemens, which has packaged the former's MALDI Biotyper with the latter's MicroScan AST system, providing customers access to both mass spec-based and conventional microbiology tools.
Danaher last week announced its planned acquisition of Siemens' clinical microbiology division, which it will fold into its Beckman Coulter business.
On a conference call last week discussing the firm's Q2 earnings, Danaher President and CEO Larry Culp described the Siemens business as "complimentary" to its AB Sciex mass spec business. He was circumspect, however, regarding the question of whether the company might use the new assets as part of a plan to pursue a mass spec-based microbiology platform to compete with Bruker and BioMérieux.
"I think, over time, we need to be careful with how many fronts AB Sciex takes on, because we are seeing broad potential application in mass spec technologies," Culp said. "We don't want Sciex to try to be all things to all people."
As he noted, AB Sciex doesn't currently provide any MALDI mass spec products aimed at microbial ID, and, while the company does offer MALDI instruments, it has focused the bulk of its efforts on its electrospray instrumentation.
Culp also made remarks that could suggest the company will continue the Siemens-Bruker relationship even though Bruker is a competitor to AB Sciex in the mass spec space.
"There will be situations where we have relationships with others where we may compete in one space and collaborate or cooperate with them in others," he said, addressing Danaher's plans for the Siemens assets. "I think that's very much the creativity and the nimbleness that we are going to need the Sciex team and the Beckman team as well to embrace and engage as we go forward."
Bruker representatives did not reply to requests for comment on the status of the company's relationship with Siemens, which is potentially important to Bruker in terms of its competition with BioMérieux for market share in the mass spec-based clinical microbiology space.
Both companies offer MALDI-based clinical microbiology platforms – the MALDI Biotyper from Bruker and the Vitek MS from BioMérieux – but BioMérieux also offers a large portfolio of conventional biochemical microbiology assays, which allows the company to offer customers a full suite of microbiology tools. Bruker's relationship with Siemens has allowed it to similarly offer customers a full range of microbiology assays.
Waters' intentions with regard to the mass spec-based microbiology market are less uncertain, if still in the early stages. The company believes that the recently acquired REIMS technology could allow for mass spec-based microbe ID that is faster and more specific than that provided by current MALDI platforms, Jeff Mazzeo, senior director of the company's health sciences business, told ProteoMonitor.
"We think, and we need to prove, that REIMS has advantages in terms of speed of ID as well as depth of information" compared to MALDI, he said, noting that the technology could provide information in areas in which MALDI platforms currently struggle, such as antibiotic resistance.
According to Mike Morris, senior director of mass spec research at Waters, the company has "some indications from preliminary work that we may be able to get an earlier [ID] using [the REIMS] approach [because] you may not need as long a culture time as the MALDI method currently does."
Another potential advantage, Morris said, is that, unlike MALDI, REIMS does not require the sample be on a matrix. This results in less complicated spectra and less interference, he said.
Waters, Morris noted, was actually among the first to pursue MALDI-based microbe ID, releasing a system for this purpose around 10 years ago. But, he said, "I think that was a bit ahead of its time."
"Trying to convince microbiologists to look at mass spectrometry was an uphill battle at that time," he said. "But now it has broken through and the whole clinical arena is much more accepting of this type of technology."
Between the Bruker and BioMérieux platforms, however, the field has grown somewhat crowded, Morris said, adding that this was why Waters had decided to look into REIMS as a microbiology platform rather than pursuing a MALDI-based system.
"We've undertaken work with a number of laboratories looking at the possibility of using this on bacterial cultures in a similar way to [MALDI], and it shows a fingerprint pattern similar to what MALDI does that we believe gives enough information" to make microbe IDs, he said.
MediMass' employees will join Waters' Budapest research center under the terms of the acquisition, and, Mazzeo said, the company expects to release a general purpose REIMS source for its mass specs within the next 12 months.
Waters has not disclosed what it paid for the MediMass assets, but, Mazzeo said, the amount was "immaterial to our 2014 reporting."