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Waters, ABI Put Aside Past Legal Fights to Collaborate on UPLC-Mass Spec Alliance

Waters and Applied Biosystems have reached a deal to integrate Waters’ Acquity Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography system with ABI/MDS Sciex’s mass spectrometers, uniting two fierce competitors who not so very long ago seemed more interested in fighting it out in the courtroom than collaborating on a business partnership.
 
The alliance comes six months after Waters penned a deal with Thermo Electron to integrate the Acquity system with Thermo's line of mass spectrometers, and with Bruker Daltonics to integrate the Acquity with Bruker's mass specs and nuclear magnetic resonance products. The Acquity UPLC platform has become increasingly important to Waters since its launch two years ago, and company officials recently said during a second-quarter conference call that they expect sales of the system to roughly double this year (see BioCommerce Week 7/26/2006).
 
Douglas Berthiaume, chairman, president and CEO of Waters, said during the July call that the firm had seen “sustained strong uptake of Acquity UPLC across a wide array of applications and customer groups. At this point, we appear to be on track to roughly double our UPLC system revenue this year.”
 
Waters enjoyed a first-mover advantage when it introduced the Acquity UPLC and has been trying to convince customers to switch from the firm’s older Alliance HPLC system, as well as competing platforms. But that selling advantage ended in January when Agilent launched its 1200 Series LC system, a high-resolution, high-speed system to compete with Waters' Acquity UPLC (see BioCommerce Week 1/25/2006).).
 
Agilent’s challenge to Waters in the high-end liquid chromatography market made alliances, such as the ones signed with Thermo, Bruker, and now ABI, increasingly important in Waters’ quest to reel in customers.
 
The Thermo deal includes pairing the Acquity UPLC with Thermo’s Finnigan TSQ Quantum, LTQ Linear Ion Trap, LTQ FT Hybrid Linear Trap/Fourier Transform ICR and LTQ Orbitrap hybrid mass spectrometers. For the Bruker deal, Waters will support its Acquity system in Bruker's HyStar software.
 
Under the terms of the deal with ABI, Waters will develop software controls for the Acquity for use with ABI/MDS Sciex’s Analyst software. Financial details of the agreement were not released.
 
A New Partnership After Years of Legal Wrangling
 
While ABI/Sciex and Waters have collaborated before in the distant past, the Acquity deal is the first partnership between the two competitors in recent years.
 
“It’s a case where taking a more open systems approach for compatibility benefits scientists who are looking for more choices,” said Anthony Petrucci, a spokesman for ABI.
 
A Waters official said the company was responding to user demands.
 
“The key reason we’re interested in doing this is that we have a significant number of customers who are in primarily bioanalysis laboratories [who] are interested in leveraging our Acquity technology with their already installed tandem quadrupole mass spectrometers,” said Gene Cassis, Waters’ vice president of investor relations and worldwide development.
 

“It’s a case where taking a more open systems approach for compatibility benefits scientists who are looking for more choices.”

“ABI/MDS Sciex and Waters very much share the same customer base, and I think both companies are getting requests from these customers to allow them to have the flexibility to use the Acquity technology,” Cassis added.
 
Still, just a few years ago, it was hard to imagine ABI and Waters collaborating on anything as they were involved in a series of patent disputes, which resulted in Waters paying ABI and MDS Sciex tens of millions of dollars and licensing fees for certain technologies.
 
While the deals with ABI/MDS as well as with Thermo and Bruker have the potential to eat into Waters’ mass spec business, Cassis said, “We’re in the business of putting together scientific instruments … and the reality is that [in] the world that we live in, at different times, different companies are going to have different positions and different technologies.”
 
Cassis could not say when the Acquity software for the ABI/MDS Sciex system would be available. Pricing for the software will be determined by ABI/MDS Sciex, he said.
 

A version of this article appears in tomorrow’s issue of BioCommerce Week sister publication ProteoMonitor.

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