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CyBio Bets Accelab Investment Will Boost Lab Automation Business as ‘Epic’ Corning Deal Looms

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German drug-discovery instrument manufacturer CyBio this week acquired a majority stake in lab-automation specialist Accelab in an attempt to strengthen its position in the high-throughput screening market and bolster its US sales figures.
 
The investment is the latest in a series of moves by CyBio to cultivate a more powerful HTS market presence, the most notable of which is a pending OEM deal for Corning’s soon-to-be-launched Epic label-free biological detection system (see sidebar).
 
Terms of the Accelab agreement call for CyBio to acquire approximately 78 percent of privately held Accelab’s shares, with the remaining shares going to Accelab executive management and “leading employees,” CyBio said. CyBio did not disclose a purchase price for the shares. The company noted that Accelab is expected to earn more than €4 million ($5 million) in revenues in 2006, which is around 30 percent of the revenue CyBio generated in 2005.
 
Based in Kusterdingen, Germany, Accelab provides laboratory automation instrumentation, software, and consulting to the pharmaceutical, chemical, cosmetics, and food industries. A particular strength of the company, according to CyBio, is its expertise in the dosing of solid particles and liquids, which is highly complementary to CyBio’s instrumentation platforms for high-throughput biochemical and cell-based assays.
 
“We currently focus [primarily] on the HTS market,” CyBio CEO Sonja Strauss told CBA News this week. “We get more and more requests daily from customers on automation issues.”
 
According to Strauss, CyBio has had a fully automated screening lab incorporating its CyBi flash luminescence plate readers, liquid handlers, and plate handlers on the market since 2000. The platform also incorporates incubators from companies such as Liconic and Thermo unit Kendro and detection devices from other vendors.
 
“But this topic of integration came up very strongly over the last two to three years, and we decided that it would be a good path to add additional competency to what we currently do – especially in automation, integration, robotic know-how, and special software for bigger integration projects” – all specialties of Accelab, Strauss said.
 
She said that Accelab also sells a “state-of-the-art software tool” that is highly modularized for controlling multiple laboratory devices, which will be incorporated into CyBio’s offerings.
 
According to Strauss, CyBio’s products have “recently been moving quickly toward cell-based assay” applications, and the Accelab acquisition reflects the German company’s goal of increasing its presence in the high-throughput drug screening market, and in particular the cell-based assay arena.
 
Early last year, for example, CyBio penned a deal with Italian biotech Axxam to co-market its readers with Axxam’s Photina photoprotein for conducting cell-based flash luminescence assays (see CBA News, 2/15/2005).
 
Then, the following March, CyBio struck a deal with biotech firm Liconic that made CyBio the exclusive marketer of Liconic’s cell incubators in France and, perhaps more importantly, gave it the right to integrate Liconic's incubators and hotels into CyBio's equipment.
 
Strauss said that CyBio also works closely with Thermo’s Kendro unit so that CyBio customers can use that company’s incubators, although CyBio and Kendro do not have an official agreement in place.
 
Strauss also said that CyBio is steadily increasing its presence in the US drug-discovery market. Though its biggest sources of current revenues are customers in Europe – especially its home country – CyBio is “comfortable with our sales group on the East coast of the US, but we are currently increasing our sales force in California,” she said.
 
CyBio’s US sales nearly doubled in 2005, according to the company’s 2005 earnings release in March. This was in large part due to new customers at public research facilities, the company said.
 
CyBio did not break out exact sales figures for the US. Total revenues for the company in 2005 were €14.3 million. Germany alone accounted for approximately 17.4 percent of these receipts, Europe generated 35 percent, North America garnered 41.5 percent, and Asia drew 6.1 percent.
 
Strauss said that CyBio considers its closest competitors to be Beckman Coulter and Velocity11, particularly in the US and on the liquid- and plate-handling side; and PerkinElmer and Tecan on the detection instrumentation side.
 
As most of these firms have a significant sales and marketing presence both in the US and Europe, CyBio hopes to continue assimilating expertise from smaller firms to help it compete.
 
“I would say that it is difficult for a company our size to partner with a Beckman or PerkinElmer,” Strauss said. “We’re looking more toward complementary know-how in our partnering. It doesn’t make so much sense to partner with a direct competitor for additional know-how. We will continue to look for competencies with which we can partner, jointly venture, or even merge.”

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