Becton Dickinson's recent announcement that it had acquired the assets of software vendor Scanalytics to enhance the analysis capabilities of its CARV II microscopy technology and Pathway HT high-content imaging platform seemed to fly under the radar.
The deal, worth just $453,000, was announced just before the Fourth of July holiday in the US, and the press release is not on BD's website.
But the acquisition of Scanalytics' software — in particular its IP Lab image-analysis software, which was previously bundled in half of all CARV units BD sold through distributors — may be a boost to BD's relatively nascent Atto Bioscience imaging business, Derek Wood, VP of bioimaging for BD, told CBA News last week.
Industry insiders said the move is "very important" for BD in terms of its competitiveness in the HCS market, and that it shows the company wants to play in the increasingly important academic market as well as the pharma and biotech drug-discovery market.
"For a corporation the size of BD, this is not a significant event," Wood said. "Atto is a new division of BD, so it is significant for our business, but overall it does not impact BD financially.
"This [acquisition] is in support of the entire BD bioimaging strategy, not just high-content screening, which we actually prefer to refer to as high-content analysis," he added. "We have our CARV product, which is a microscopy product, and clearly that is where the initial synergies with the IP Lab from Scanalytics lie. But clearly, part of the image-analysis capabilities of the product will be integrated into our core high-content, high-throughput imaging offerings."
"This [acquisition] is in support of the entire BD bioimaging strategy, not just high-content screening, which we actually prefer to refer to as high-content analysis. Clearly, part of the image-analysis capabilities of [Scanalytics'] product will be integrated into our core high-content, high-throughput imaging offerings."
As high-content screening has grown, HCS vendors have clearly recognized the importance of packaging their automated microscopes with a strong image-analysis software package — and BD is no different.
"Clearly one of the drivers of this whole field of high-content analysis is software," Wood said. "A lot of the companies and all of our competitors can take a pretty good image, but it's all about how you analyze an image and turn it into useful data.
"That was one of the key drivers for us working with Scanalytics in the past, and eventually acquiring the company," Wood added. "We realized that we eventually had to enhance our capabilities internally, and if it's already been developed out there, why go and develop it yourself when you can partner with somebody?"
Some HCS vendors have adopted this strategy, while others have chosen to develop their own image-analysis software. For instance, Cellomics, one of the first HCS vendors, has maintained since the beginning that the image-analysis software it developed in-house is what separates it from its competitors, and it has continued to modify and upgrade its image-analysis capabilities internally.
Evotec Technologies launched its HCS platform, Opera, in 2002, along with Acapella image analysis software that it also developed in-house. However, while it still bundles Opera with Acapella, Evotec has also realized the importance of allowing customers to apply other image-analysis packages to Opera, such as Definiens' Cellenger.
On the other hand, Molecular Devices, like BD, in 2002 acquired Universal Imaging for its MetaMorph image-analysis package to support its Discovery-1, and, later, ImageXpress automated microscopy platforms. It rode MetaMorph as long as it could before last month launching an entirely new imaging initiative, including its new MetaXpress image-analysis software, based on the original platform (see CBA News, 6/20/2005).
GE Healthcare, meantime, inherited image-analysis capabilities with its acquisition of Amersham's IN Cell Analyzer technology, and touted its current software capabilities last month when it made available new algorithms and image-analysis routines for the IN Cell's Developer Toolbox software (see CBA News, 6/27/2005).
Beckman Coulter and BD, traditional rivals in the flow cytometry arena, entered the HCS game later. Beckman purchased upstart imaging firm Q3DM and its HCS platform about a year and a half ago, which it turned into its current IC 100 imaging cytometer (see CBA News, 6/22/2004). Although Q3DM's platform featured instrumentation, it was the image-analysis capabilities that made the technology tick, and Beckman applied its own instrumentation expertise to the IC 100 while bringing few Q3DM people aboard to continue tweaking the original software.
BD purchased Atto last July for about $25 million, primarily for that company's CARV spinning disc confocal imager, Pathway HT automated microscopy platform, and associated AttoVision software (see CBA News, 7/6/2004). It turned those platforms around into the current BD products, the CARV II confocal imager and the Pathway Bioimager HCS instrument, which is based on the CARV technology.
And BD had actually been familiar with Scanalytics' IP Lab for some time, as, according to Wood, "approximately 50 percent of the CARV units we've sold through distributors in the past have been sold with Scanalytics' IP Lab software."
According to Fernando Delaville, former president and CEO of Scanalytics and new director of microscopy at BD, AttoVision will remain the driver of CARV II and the Pathway Bioimager, but Scanalytics' IP Lab will enhance AttoVision's capabilities.
"We realized that we eventually had to enhance our capabilities internally, and if it's already been developed out there, why go and develop it yourself when you can partner with somebody?"
"Customers will continue to use AttoVision to drive the instrument, but will have specific processing routines or packages that they could then use to perform other types of analysis," Delaville said.
Specifically, Delaville said, users will be able to conduct "more end-point types of analyses, where you might be counting particles or counting numbers of events in a field of view. It could also be intensity- or morphology-based processing, where you might be looking at the number of cells, shapes of cells, and stuff of that sort."
Gary Brooker, a research professor of biology at Johns Hopkins University, director of the Hopkins Integrated Imaging Center, and founder and former CSO of Atto, told CBA News that the Scanalytics acquisition was a crucial move for BD.
"When I was still at Atto, I actually initiated trying to work an acquisition of Scanalytics," Brooker said. "So it's a pleasure to see this happen. Scanalytics has emerged as the only real independent software company for microscopy."
Brooker said that the move "was very important" for BD in terms of its competitiveness in the HCS market. He also pointed out that the acquisition shows that BD wants to play in the increasingly important academic market as well as the pharma and biotech drug-discovery market.
"I get the feeling that Scanalytics is going to be able to continue to provide support to the scientific community, which is good," Brooker said. "I think their products and support are good. The big acquiring companies need not lose sight of the fact that the scientific community is an important community to support, and to just acquire imaging companies and eliminate their capability to support real science is a mistake."
Brooker, who said the Hopkins facility uses a Pathway among other instruments, believes that the technology will have more flexibility as a result of integration with IP Lab.
"Scanalytics is much stronger in the total, widespread image analysis, and has a lot of flexibility, whereas Atto's stuff has been more focused" on specific assays, Brooker said. "Scanalytics has a broad base of image analysis [capabilities], so I think that can complement the BD-Atto offerings."
As the acquisition is only a few weeks old, BD will first concentrate on integrating the eight former Scanalytics employees into BD's Rockville facility, which it acquired with the Atto purchase. It will then look to market IP Lab with the CARV II technology, and finally "aggressively" integrate IP Lab into the Pathway "in a short period of time," Wood said.
"We've already had conversations with a number of our customers who are very excited about the opportunities of integrating the Scanalytics analytical component in," Wood added, although he declined to identify specific customers due to confidentiality concerns.
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])