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Setting Sights on Applied Markets, ABI Targets Niche with Launch of Amino Acid Analyzer

Furthering its strategy of pushing its existing technologies into new markets, Applied Biosystems, through its ABI/MDS Sciex joint venture, this week launched an amino acid analyzer that capitalizes on the firm’s mass spectrometry offerings and specialized reagents.
 
The launch of the Amino Acid 20/20 Analyzer is intended to offer researchers a less laborious method for measuring and characterizing proteins, and ABI hopes that it will entice researchers who haven’t previously used mass spec to try the instruments. The instrument’s introduction is part of ABI’s previously stated plans to take advantage of a variety of potential applications for its instruments and reagents in the estimated $6 billion applied markets.
 
The applied markets comprise applications such as forensics, biosecurity, food and environmental testing, quality assurance/quality control, and eventually regulated diagnostics. The new 20/20 Analyzer is aimed primarily at researchers conducting quality control in the biopharmaceutical manufacturing process, as well as those assessing the nutritional content of foods, beverages, and animal feed.
 
The applied markets are seen as a crucial and potentially lucrative opportunity for ABI —so much so that the firm created an Applied Markets division as part of a restructuring launched in July 2004. “This is really a strategic introduction for us, to be going into areas where mass spec was not traditionally used [and to] open up the possibilities for mass spec to be used for different types of analysis,” said Tamara Bond, ABI’s product manager for the new amino acid analyzers.  
 
The 20/20 Analyzer combines triple-quad mass specs sold by ABI/MDS Sciex, ABI’s iTRAQ labeling chemistry and recently introduced Cliquid software, and an Agilent liquid chromatography system.
 
“It’s certainly the first complete solution” for amino acid analysis, Bond told BioCommerce Week. “Other [companies] have provided components, like LC columns that could help with the separation, but we’re offering the mass spec combined with an Agilent front-end LC system, plus software that puts it together very seamlessly. I think the most unique part of our offering is the proprietary iTRAQ reagent labeling chemistry that really brings this all together,” she said.
 
According to Bond, the iTRAQ reagents label amines with an isobaric tag, which allows the different amino acids to be passed through the mass spec as a complete entity under equal pressure. “When they’re broken apart in the MS/MS part of the mass spec they fragment into their different weights, so that you can then get good quantification. We also added internal standards for each of the amino acids within our kits, so that helps with the quantitative accuracy that the reagents can provide,” she said.
 
The primary application for the 20/20 Analyzer is as a quality control-type mechanism for biopharmaceutical manufacturing, particularly for peptide synthesis, according to Bond. It also can be used in the biopharmaceutical manufacturing process to optimize the fermentation process, during which researchers check how amino acids are being utilized. “You can also translate that into areas such as for animal feed, or for looking for nutrient value, that sort of thing,” said Bond.
 
“A lot of it is going to be done in service labs or contract research organizations, who we probably already sell to, but possibly not within this particular lab — it would be the lab down the hall,” she said. “The people running this particular analysis may not necessarily have had direct interactions with a mass spec before but are aware of them and their power.”
 
Starting With a Small Slice
 
Though Bond estimated that the current market for amino acid analysis is around $100 million, “we’re looking to capture a smaller percentage of [the market] with good growth over time,” she said.
 
According to Bond, 70 percent to 80 percent of the amino acid analysis market is served by dedicated amino acid analyzers, which are usually based on UV or fluorescence. “Although they’re very well established, it’s a very laborious process and the systems are very prone to break down,” she said.
 
“People have been getting frustrated with them for years, and have been looking to a possible solution by mass spec,” Bond said. “But people who have tried it with mass spec [found that] there really hasn’t been the reproducibility in the methods when you’re just simply trying to shoot the amino acids on their own through the system or to do other types of standard derivitization, and it was really the labeling chemistry that came along that allowed us to come up with a robust and reproducible method, and one that gave good accurate quantification.”
 
ABI does not sell the standard, dedicated amino acid analyzers that researchers most frequently use. She noted that Beckman Coulter and Hitachi Biochrome have been the biggest sellers in the market, though Beckman has dropped out of the market.
 
“Beckman had the largest installed base, but they actually chose to exit this market … because the service costs were getting very high,” Bond said. “That was one of the reasons that triggered us to go in there and take a look at this market. The market really needed a quantum leap in terms of what was offered to them for their analysis, and this was [a situation in which] we could put the necessary ingredients together.”
 
As a complete system, a customer would buy either the API 2000 or the API 3200 triple quad mass specs. The 20/20 Analyzer is priced at $45,000 plus $140,000 for the API 2000 and $220,000 for the API 3200, according to Bond.
 
“For the initial capital expense, it’s slightly more expensive than what they would typically pay” for an amino acid analyzer, said Bond. However, she noted that using the iTraq reagents, “the cost per sample goes down significantly — probably about half the cost per sample versus the traditional methods.”
 

“This is really a strategic introduction for us, to be going into areas where mass spec was not traditionally used [and to] open up the possibilities for mass spec to be used for different types of analysis.”

Though Bond said ABI is the first firm to offer a complete package utilizing mass spec for amino acid analysis, it could face competition in the future from firms that also sell isobaric tagging reagents.
 
Among these firms is PerkinElmer, which acquired Agilix’s i-PROT protein-labeling technology earlier this year (see BioCommerce Week 3/15/2006). The i-PROT technology uses isobaric mass tags to simultaneously quantify proteins from multiple samples in one mixture, thereby enabling quantitative comparison between proteins expressed in a number of different conditions, for example at six or seven different time points.
 
Another potential competitor could be Bruker Biosciences. Last year, the firm’s Bruker Daltonics unit forged an alliance with German firm Serva Electrophoresis to co-market Serva’s Isotope Coded Protein Label for quantitative proteomics.
 
ABI also has a co-marketing pact with Invitrogen to jointly sell ABI's iTRAQ and ICAT protein and peptide labeling reagents and Invitrogen's SILAC (stable isotope labeling by amino acids in cell culture) protein identification and quantification labeling technology (see BioCommerce Week 6/9/2005). Terms of that agreement also call for ABI to support Invitrogen's SILAC technology with software on its TOF/TOF mass spectrometers and to extend software support for the labeling technology to other mass spec types.

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