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Stratagene Buy Will Arm Agilent with Array Software, RNA Controls, and Labeling Kits

This article has been updated to correct the names of Stratagene's software products in the sixth paragraph. The company no longer sells GeneTraffic, as previously reported.
Agilent Technologies last week announced that it plans to acquire Stratagene for $246 million in cash, a 28-percent premium over Stratagene’s closing price the day before the deal was disclosed.
While Stratagene is not a microarray vendor per se, it does offer several products that are widely used by array researchers, including software, RNA controls for array experiments, and sample-preparation and labeling kits.
Agilent spokesperson Stu Matlow told BioArray News in an e-mail this week that it is too soon to discuss how specific Stratagene products could bolster Agilent's presence in the array market.
"The plan is to maintain Stratagene as a separate division within Agilent’s Life Sciences Solutions Unit should the deal close," he wrote — a decision that may insulate Agilent and Stratagene customers from any post-acquisition disruptions. "We can’t really talk about how the individual products relate to one another right now.”
The companies expect the deal to close in around 90 days.
Product Placement
In terms of microarray analysis software, Stratagene sells ArrayAssist, a desktop-based analysis package, and ArrayAssist Enterprise, a server-based package that offers users centralized data management products. Both are designed to be used with multiple array platforms, and Affy has said the software is GeneChip-compatible.
Agilent currently offers its GeneSpring software to its customers. The company acquired the technology behind GeneSpring when it purchased Silicon Genetics in 2004 (see BAN 9/1/2004).
While Agilent and Affy are direct competitors in the array arena, if Agilent continues to offer ArrayAssist it won't be the first time chip vendors have sold products that in one way or another benefitted a rival. For example, Applied Biosystems has continued to offer miRNA arrays manufactured on GE Healthcare CodeLink bioarray platform since it acquired the chips through its purchase of Ambion's research products division last year (see BAN 3/7/2006).
Stratagene's Universal RNA samples for mouse, rat, and human could also add to Agilent's array offering. The reference samples were used in the Microarray Quality Control project that published its first results last September (see BAN 9/12/2006).
Additionally, Stratagene sells RNA purification kits for use with arrays and 96-well microplates, and the FairPlay labeling microarray kit for cDNA array labeling.
Some Agilent customers have already been using Stratagene's software to do analysis. Jim Woodgett, director of the University of Toronto's University Health Network microarray core facility which offers Agilent arrays as a service to local researchers, told BioArray News in an e-mail this week that UHN is a customer of both companies.
"We've used the Stratagene software since they first developed it and we've been big users of GeneTraffic and Array Assist," he wrote. " So, this acquisition should be a welcome development for us. For Agilent, it reinforces their current array software, which stretches from large-scale databases to single users."
He added that having Stratagene onboard could help Agilent reach academic customers who have not used Agilent's software packages due to limited budgets.
According to Woodgett, the big plus for Agilent and Stratagene users will be price because ArrayAssist is cheaper than a GeneSpring — a fact that could enable more researchers to do their analysis on their own, rather than depending on the lab.
"Many [researchers] simply rely on the core labs for a fairly standard analysis," Woodgett wrote. "The Stratagene software was aimed at both core labs and individual users. We tend to use GeneSpring for analysis of user data within the core but ArrayAssist is only $1,500 for a single academic license," he added. By comparison, a single GeneSpring license costs around $3,400 per year.

"It's quite possible Agilent will consolidate the software into oblivion or reposition it."

Still, Woodgett was hesitant to speculate about how Agilent might seek to integrate Stratagene's software into its existing portfolio. He noted that "microarrays are a very small part of Stratagene" and that the acquisition is "far more to do with the life sciences biologicals" than Stratagene's array-related products.
"Given this, it's quite possible Agilent will consolidate the software into oblivion or reposition it," Woodgett wrote. "It remains to be seen how integrated the solutions will become. The Stratagene software was obviously tailored to multiple platforms," he added.

Paul Heath, a senior scientific officer at the University of Sheffield’s core microarray facility in the UK, doesn't expect the acquisition to interfere with his research. "I was not actually aware of the acquisition but I do use the Stratagene software packages and I do not immediately see it affecting me as an Agilent user," Heath, a customer of both Agilent and Stratagene, wrote in an e-mail to BioArray News this week.

Similarly, Zugen Chen, a research assistant at the DNA Microarray Core at the University of California, Los Angeles, told BioArray News this week that the Stratagene acquisition would probably not affect the core’s Agilent service.
“I don’t think it will affect us that much because we already use the GeneSpring software from Agilent,” Chen said.

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