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Roche to Delve Deeper Into Cell Analysis Market Through Acea Instrument Alliance

This story originally appeared in Biocommerce Week, a newsletter that has been discontinued.
 
Adding to a rapidly growing life sciences research tools portfolio, Roche said last week that its Applied Science business would collaborate with Acea Biosciences to develop a real-time cell analysis instrument.
 
Roche officials believe the firm is gaining access to a unique technology that will allow it to succeed in the highly competitive cell analysis field, which includes such heavyweights as PerkinElmer, Thermo Fisher Scientific, MDS, and GE Healthcare.
 
The firm will leverage its existing portfolio of cell reagents and assay kits and could potentially integrate the new product in workflow offerings with the technologies it gained through the acquisitions of 454 Life Sciences and NimbleGen Systems earlier this year.
 
Under the terms of the agreement, Roche will exclusively market systems for real-time cellular analysis based on Acea’s impedance-based platform. Acea currently sells a cell-based assay instrument, which it will continue to sell as it works with Roche on a next-generation instrument.
 
Roche Applied Sciences Head Manfred Baier told BioCommerce Week via e-mail this week that the Acea technology offers several advantages over current instrumentation for cell-based assays. He said it is label-free and does not depend on manipulated cells, and it enables measurement of real-time kinetics and live-cell quality control.
 
In addition, “the information content is very rich,” he said. “It shows high sensitivity and reproducibility in monitoring an entire cell population in a culture well.”
 
He said that while the Acea technology “has a lot of advantages in a broad range of applications,” the firm does not compare it with highly integrated systems for image analysis, such as PerkinElmer’s Opera or GE’s IN Cell 1000. Those instruments sell anywhere from $450,000 for GE’s system up to around $850,000 for the Opera, though PerkinElmer officials recently said they are looking at reducing the price of the Opera.
 
Baier said he could not provide an estimated cost for the next-generation instrument it is developing. But Roche views cellular analysis as an attractive revenue opportunity with an estimated market of around $1.18 billion in 2006 and growing at approximately 8 percent per year.
 
Having an instrument platform also means Roche would be able to drive greater consumables revenues. The firm already sells reagents and assay kits to study apoptosis, cytotoxicity, and cellular proliferation and viability. But, “Acea is one important step to extend the existing portfolio in areas of this market that we have identified as attractive,” said Baier.
 

“There are multiple opportunities under assessment currently, but it is too early to disclose information on any of them at this time.”

He said it is difficult to quantify Roche’s market share in the cell analysis field, but added, “Where we are present, we have two-digit market shares.” The firm’s primary competitors in the reagents segment are Invitrogen and Promega, among others.
 
Roche expanded its product portfolio in DNA and RNA analysis with the acquisitions of 454 in March and NimbleGen six months later (see BioCommerce Week 4/4/2007 and 6/20/2007).
 
The firm also has made multiple offers — though for the same rejected $75 per share price — to acquire Ventana Medical Systems. Just last week, Ventana offered Roche an opportunity to examine its non-public financial and market data in an effort to convince Roche that its offer is “grossly inadequate” (see BioCommerce Week 11/14/2007).
 
In each of these cases, Roche added, or would like to add, technologies that fill out its capabilities in the genomics research and tissue-based diagnostics fields.
 
However, Baier noted in regard to Acea, “Acquisition was not our preferred option in this case.” He did not elaborate on why this was the case.
 
Acea's cell-based assays could potentially be integrated early on with techniques such as gene expression, or with technologies such as those manufactured by 454 and NimbleGen, James O’Connell, CEO of Acea, told BioCommerce Week sister publication Cell-Based Assay News last week. He added that the opportunity for integration with these other platforms is a key advantage for Acea in partnering with a large company like Roche.
 
Even though Roche has added DNA sequencing, gene expression, and now cell analysis technologies to its offerings over the past nine months, Baier said the firm is still reviewing its portfolio for potential gaps. “There are multiple opportunities under assessment currently, but it is too early to disclose information on any of them at this time,” he said.