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$80M HCA Market Will Plateau in '07-'08, But Will Sharply Rise Soon After, Study Predicts

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The worldwide market for high-content analysis systems and software was nearly $80 million in 2006, and is expected to plateau in 2007 and 2008, but will rise sharply in following years as the pharmaceutical industry fully embraces HCA applications in secondary and primary screening, according to a recent market analysis performed by Insight Pharma Reports.
 
Specifically, the report predicted that the HCA market will grow around 12 percent between 2007 and 2012, with more academic customers and a lower growth rate from pharma.
 
The report, released in May, also found that the HCA reagent market, which currently stands at approximately $125 million, will increase due to a rise in the number of wells used per study, and greater use of HCA tools in the academic sector.
 
The study also found that cost and software challenges are two dominant barriers to HCA adoption.
 
“I think a lot of people four years ago, myself included, expected HCA to be adopted a lot faster across the board, because of the promise of a lot more data,” said Richard Fisler, president of Beachhead Consulting and co-author of the report. “And I think there have been a lot of limitations both on the biology and user side, and on the instrument software side.”
 
The study found that there is currently a strong interest among pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers in the potential of HCA applications, but suggested that HCA systems have not yet fully emerged as mainstream instruments, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector.
 
However, a burgeoning market for kits and assays, and increased use of HCA technologies by academic researchers continue to spur growth in the market.
 
When HCA end users were asked what technical features they would like to see in HCA instruments, 55 percent said automated data collection and analysis and 53 percent said increased speed, according to the top respondents in the study.
 
The study found that cost continues to be a key barrier to HCA adoption, especially among smaller companies and academic institutions. Although prices have decreased over the past two years, 59 percent of survey respondents said high cost remains a barrier to HCA adoption.
 
The second most-significant barrier was difficulty using image-analysis software, cited by 49.2 percent of respondents. Users said that software systems are rarely intuitive and can require extensive training to accomplish even simple procedures.
 
The study authors said they expect third-party software developers to play a role in making HCA software more user-friendly, although these shops have only penetrated approximately 10 percent of the market.
 
Most researchers said they use the software that was shipped with the instrument.
 
According to Fisler, the response from the scientific community has been that a lot of great software is available, but a lot of development still needs to be done, both by vendors and customers, before more systems are adopted.
 
In addition, 41 percent of survey respondents cited a lack of flexibility of image analysis software as a barrier to their adoption of HCA.
 
Dominant Players
 
The market is dominated by GE Healthcare and Thermo Fisher Scientific, which together sell around 40 percent of the instruments on the market today, according to James Kling, a co-author of the report.
 
A second tier of companies comprises Evotec (now part of PerkinElmer), Molecular Devices (now part of MDS Analytical Technologies), TTP Lab Tech, and CompuCyte, said Fisler.
 
In addition, the fact that three large companies — Thermo Fisher (which bought Cellomics), GE (which bought Amersham), and PerkinElmer (which bought Evotec, Euroscreen, and Improvision) — are buying HCA technologies is very telling, because it suggests the markets in which these technologies play are now big enough for them to pay attention, Fisler said.
 
Ultimately, such consolidation in the HCA market will reduce innovation in terms of new technologies and new types of analyses being offered because larger companies tend not to innovate as much, Kling said.
 

“I think a lot of people four years ago, myself included, expected HCA to be adopted a lot faster across the board, because of the promise of a lot more data.”

At the same time, however, the market can expect consolidation to improve standards for data handling, said Kling. He said lack of standards contributes to a common complaint among HCA customers that it is difficult to move between systems and swap data.
 
“There has been some talk already about developing some standards, and I think that the consolidation should drive that further because you’ll get fewer players with more systems under their umbrella,” he said.
 
PerkinElmer did not respond to a request for comment before press time.
 
Returns Too Slender
 
Kling said that part of the reason the HCA market will plateau this year and in 2008 is that it has not clearly demonstrated a good return on investment for pharmaceutical companies.
 
Fisler said that HCA technology is incrementally making its way into pharma applications, though it has not gained a toehold on an industry-wide scale in any individual application.
 
Over the last several years, pharma customers have used HCA tools for target validation with RNAi technologies, high-throughput screening, secondary screening, and toxicology screening.
 
Fisler said that more academic researchers are using the technologies for screening or simply for faster microscopy. He said that academic users tend to invest in the lower- to mid-range HCA platforms rather than in higher-end platforms.
 
HCA Is Here To Stay
 
The report points to the fact that HCA isn’t going to go away anytime soon, said Mark Collins, senior product manager for informatics at ThermoFisher’s Cellomics group. In fact, people consider that it will be a key technology moving forward, in terms of helping pharmaceutical companies be more productive.
 
HTS has not been as productive as people had anticipated, because it only measures one parameter, said Collins, who was interviewed for the report. Whereas people really feel that HCS will have an impact in improving pharmaceutical productivity, because it measures more than one thing, and measures targets in the context of a cell.
 
Collins also found it interesting that technologies other than imaging, such as electrophysiology, which do not meet the broad definition of HCA, were “tied” to HCA in the report. 
 
“I think the authors missed a little bit of why, at a top level, HCA is so appealing,” Collins said. HCA has a lot of detail, he explained.
 
The overriding reason why HCA gets adopted is that it provides a better understanding of disease, Collins said. The pharmaceutical industry knows that many of the binding assays that it performs in HTS represent, perhaps, a naive view of a disease. When they get into the clinic, compounds mostly fail.
 
“Overall, I thought the report did a good job of surveying the market and balancing the different vendors, and that the estimates for market growth were pretty much spot-on,” Collins said.
 

It is not a commodity product yet, so people are very interested in giving their feedback, because they believe it will have an impact on the vendors, Collins said.  

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