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Evotec Integrating HCS with New HTS Platform; Recent User Meeting Spawns First Customer


About half a year following its acquisition of Carl Zeiss' uHTS business, Evotec Technologies last week revealed that it will be adding high-content cellular-analysis capabilities to the new platform as part of its plan to offer a more flexible and inexpensive drug-discovery package, in particular to academic customers.

In addition, Evotec has landed its first customer of the combined product as a result of feedback it received from an existing customer at its annual "User Club" meeting held last week at its Hamburg, Germany headquarters, company officials told CBA News last week.

This is the second major sign in the past two months that Evotec Technologies is, for the time being, continuing to develop its product line and build business, following slumping revenues and suggestions made by parent company Evotec OAI earlier in the year that the subsidiary is no longer core (see CBA News, 5/16/2005).

The other recent indication that Evotec Tech is continuing to develop its product line was in September, when the company forged a partnership with Swiss informatics firm Genedata to combine its HCS and HTS detection instruments with Genedata's data-analysis software (see CBA News, 9/19/2005).

Furthermore, the most recent news gives some insight into how Evotec Tech is integrating the former Zeiss business into its own drug-discovery toolbox. In May, Evotec Tech acquired Carl Zeiss' entire uHTS business including its Plate::vision multimode CCD-based plate reader and Plate::explorer uHTS automation platform.

"What we don't want to do is cut one of the arms off so we only sell the Zeiss products or the EvoScreen products in the future," Carsten Claussen, CEO of Evotec Technologies, told CBA News. "We will go forward with both, and we see in the future a lot of technology development and engineering, for example, in the fluidics and software."

"What we don't want to do is cut one of the arms off so we only sell the Zeiss products or the EVOScreen products in the future."

In May, Roman Nagel, an equity analyst for German investment bank BHF-Bank, predicted that the Zeiss acquisition, while having a relatively minor impact financially, would likely drum up more business for Evotec. "[They] more or less bought a customer base," Nagel said at the time. "They extended their customer base by buying the technologies and the headcount, and they also increased the customer base, I think, to improve the Opera business," he said (see CBA News, 5/16/2005).

It now appears that Nagel's observations have been confirmed. "The Zeiss business was co-developed by Roche, so all of the Roche customers, as well as the other existing customers, are also ours," Claussen said last week. "And EVOScreen was co-developed [with] Pfizer, Novartis, and GlaxoSmithKline, so now we really cover most of the big pharmas."

Evotec Tech now offers three major stand-alone drug-discovery detection instruments, or plate readers: Opera, for confocal high-content cellular analysis; Clarina, for biochemical analyses based on fluorescence correlation spectroscopy; and Plate::vision, which is used primarily for biochemical assays.

It now also offers two major integrated and automated screening platforms: EVOScreen, the company's flagship drug-discovery platform, and Plate::explorer.

EVOScreen has traditionally been outfitted with either the Opera, Clarina, or both, as well as compound reformatting and nanoliter compound-handling robots.

On the other hand, under Zeiss, Plate::explorer traditionally only integrated the Plate::vision and thus was used primarily for high-throughput biochemical assays. This continued when Evotec took the business over; but, Claussen said, due to recent customer demand, the company will now incorporate the Opera HCS reader into Plate::explorer.

"After the user meeting, there was a lot of interest in high-content screening — it was obviously one of the biggest topics," Stefan Marose, Evotec's vice president of customer support, told CBA News.

In addition, after hashing out details with one of its Plate::explorer customers, Evotec took an order, Claussen said, and the company will install an Opera with the Plate::explorer at that customer's site.

Evotec declined to identify the customer due to confidentiality reasons, but Claussen said that it was a European pharmaceutical company.

It is interesting that the first order for an integrated Opera/Plate::explorer product is a large pharma, even though Evotec said it is primarily targeting the academic market with the Plate::explorer platform.

"We believe there will be number of drug-discovery centers emerging in the academic market," Claussen said. "We think that especially [Plate::explorer's] size, and the modularity, will fit very well in this market. Due to its modular concept you can tailor it to the customers' needs by adding different units to it. And of course it has an interesting price for the academic market."

With about a €1 million ($1.2 million) base price, a Plate::explorer platform may still be too expensive for academic customers, unless they are part of a larger core drug-discovery facility. However, the price is significantly lower than that of EVOScreen, which can cost anywhere between €2 million and €3 million.

Incidentally, just as Evotec will start incorporating Opera into the plate::explorer platform, it has also incorporated the Plate::vision multimode reader — which it also acquired from Zeiss — into the EVOScreen platform. Claussen said that two of its EVOScreen customers have integrated the Plate::vision into their platforms.

"EVOScreen is more of an integrated platform, which means we have the reformatting in the system, the detection in the system, and it's really integrated into one machine," Claussen said. "Our strategy was that we use really the EVOScreen with the focus on big pharma — screening centers at big pharma, with a lot of detection methods they have in the screening labs.

Even though Evotec sells each of its detection instruments separately, with the Opera HCS reader leading the way in sales, the company is taking a decidedly more integrated approach as it looks to sell customers on its other areas of expertise, such as liquid handling and compound reformatting, and thus on total drug-discovery platforms. This is a harder sell, to be sure, but one EVOScreen sale would be the equivalent of selling four to six Operas, which retail at around €500,000.

"It is not a question of [preferring] to sell integrated platforms," Claussen said. "What is important is the fact that our customers benefit from our integration experience. This means we can leverage the same technology in two ways — in the area of secondary and primary assay development in form of bench-top systems, and also integrated into larger platforms."

— Ben Butkus ([email protected])

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