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Thermo Shoots for Faster LC-MS with Acquisition of Ion Separation Tech Firm

In the highly competitive mass spectrometry market, Thermo Electron is hoping that the acquisition of a novel ion separation technology will provide it with an advantage over instruments made by competitors, such as ABI/MDS Sciex, Waters, and Bruker.

Last week, the firm purchased ion-filtering instrument firm Ionalytics for an undisclosed sum. Ionalytics, which was spun out of Canada's National Research Council in October 2001, is the developer of the high-field asymmetric waveform ion mobility spectrometry (FAIMS) technology. The firm began marketing a tool two years ago under the name Selectra that employs the technology.

"Thermo acquired Ionalytics and its FAIMS technology with the goal of expanding the solutions we offer … our life sciences customers," said Iain Mylchreest, vice president of life sciences mass spectrometry for Thermo. "This expansion will absolutely include incorporation of this novel ion separation technology into Thermo's mass spectrometry portfolio. We are assessing which products are the most appropriate to enable with the FAIMS" technology, he told BioCommerce Week in an e-mail interview this week.

According to Mylchreest, the FAIMS technology will enable customers to resolve liquid chromatography mass spec method development challenges more quickly and easily than without using the FAIMS technology. He explained that the Selectra removes chemical background noise by removing interference, which, in turn, enables increased throughput and improves detection limits.

Although other mass spec firms make their own ionization products for their instruments, Selectra is unique because of its ability to be used with a variety of mass spectrometers.

In addition, Mylchreest said, "What makes FAIMS unique is that it offers a new way to separate ions that cannot be done easily or consistently with any other technique or combination of techniques. The alternatives to FAIMS today for the method development challenges are really repetition of other techniques or combinations of techniques that cost more time, resources, and don't necessarily deliver results."

Thermo said that it has been collaborating with Ionalytics for several years on developing the technology, and Selectra was applied to Thermo's ion trap through an agreement reached between the firms two years ago.

Ottawa-based Ionalytics previously had a distribution pact, signed in March 2004, with Applied Biosystems and MDS Sciex, which put the ion filtering devices on their mass spec instruments. But that agreement has expired, according to Mylchreest.

The firm also has a partnership dating back to June 2003 with Waters, under which Waters agreed to market, sell, and support the Ionalytics Selectra as a front-end instrument for its Micromass mass spec instruments. Mylchreest did not comment on that particular alliance, but he said Thermo would "honor Ionalytics' outstanding commitments."

Gene Cassis, vice president of investor relations for Waters, told BioCommerce Week that the FAIMS device has been integrated as an option on some of Waters' mass spec instruments. "It's an option that is used on a minority of our installations, and we continue to support that device," he said.

It remains to be seen whether the agreement with Ionalytics will be altered, according to Cassis. "I wouldn't make any assumptions at this time that any agreements that we had with Ionalytics will change as a result of the acquisition by Thermo Electron," he said.

Barbara Ells, marketing and product manager for Ionalytics, told BioCommerce Week sister publication ProteoMonitor in June 2003 that although FAIMS was developed initially for electrospray mass spectrometry, MALDI "is down the road for sure" (see ProteoMonitor 6/20/2003). However, Mylchreest said that while FAIMS is being developed for other applications, "the technology has not been tried with MALDI."

"FAIMS has potential as a general method development and selectivity tool, which can be applied across numerous applications in drug discovery," Mylchreest said. "Thermo will explore the potential of FAIMS to address analytical challenges beyond those of today."

Thermo declined to provide a price for the device, but Ionalytics told ProteoMonitor two years ago that the device would cost $75,000 in the US. Mylchreest also declined to provide an estimate of the market size for the Selectra or the FAIMS technology.

Ionalytics has raised roughly CA$6.5 million (US$4.9 million) through two rounds of financing since its inception.

— Edward Winnick ([email protected])