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Roche Buys Innovatis for $20.5M in Bid to Boost Bioproduction, Cell Fermentation QC Play

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Roche announced this week that it will acquire Innovatis, a cellular-analysis solutions shop based in Bielefeld, Germany, for €15 million ($20.5 million), in a bid to strengthen its position in the bioproduction and cell-fermentation quality-control markets — neither in which Roche has been particularly active.

In addition, Innovatis' cell counting, cell viability testing, and cell acquisition measurement technology is compatible with Roche's xCELLigence platform, said Manfred Baier, head of Roche Applied Science.

"We serve the life-sciences market as a supplier, and we wanted to strengthen our portfolio of cellular-analysis tools for cell-based assays," Baier said this week. He added that Roche considers cellular testing to be a very important, rapidly growing field in scientific research.

Besides Roche's xCELLigence portfolio, Innovatis' technology also combines with other techniques, according to Baier. "We see cellular identification as kind of a [segue] to further, in-depth analysis," such as PCR testing, array technology, or sequencing, he said.

Baier mentioned that Roche's pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturing business was, in fact, Innovatis' first customer when it launched its products more than 10 years ago, and is one of Innovatis' key customers today. Roche uses Innovatis' systems for its "in-process control in biotech production," he said.

Innovatis currently has four systems on the market: the Cedex line, which is often used in bioproduction, comprises automated cellular analysis systems with optical technology for cell counting, viability testing, and cell acquisition measurement; the CASY technology, which is a relatively new technology for Innovatis, is a pulse area-based technology for cell counting and viability testing; Cellavista, which is a digital microscopy platform for the analysis of cells in microtiter plates; and CuBiAn, which is a benchtop biochemical analyzer that is used in cell fermentation quality control.

"We … plan to keep Innovatis as a center of competence for their technology," said Baier. He added that Roche did not just acquire a product or products, but rather technology and competence, so "we intend to keep this site of technology in Bielefeld, Germany." The sales forces of both companies will be integrated, so that "we have a stronger presence and competence in the cellular testing market," he added.

The companies are now planning their integration. "We will have to wait for the closing, which should not take too long." This should not be a complex transaction for the appropriate regulatory bodies, Baier said, so the companies expect that the acquisition will close within one to two months.

About 60 people currently work for Innovatis, and both the management and staff will stay with Roche, Doyia Turner, manager of corporate communications for Roche Diagnostics, told CBA News this week in an e-mail.

In terms of continuing to develop and refine Innovatis' technology, Baier said, "We see this as the beginning of a success story, not just as the maintenance of the product portfolio."

Upon the closing of the acquisition, the companies will bring their R&D forces together and consider how to integrate their different technologies "so that we can also broaden the fields of application of cell counting and cell testing," Baier said.

Swiss Cell Analysis

For the past two years, Roche, based in Basel, Switzerland, has been trying to grow its footprint in the cellular analysis market. Buried in its 2006-2007 annual report, released in March 2007, was a single sentence saying the firm's Applied Science unit, located in Indianapolis, "plans to add new research reagents and products for automated cell analysis to its portfolio" (see CBA News, 3/2/07).

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Eight months later, Roche and Acea announced that Roche will exclusively market systems for real-time cellular analysis that it would co-develop with Acea and would be based on Acea's impedance-based platform (see CBA News, 11/16/07). The resulting xCELLigence platform was launched in June 2008.

This collaboration with Acea positioned the Swiss giant to compete against PerkinElmer, GE Healthcare, and Thermo Fisher Scientific, each of which already had strong cellular analysis product lines.

Baier told CBA News in November 2007 that Acea viewed cellular analysis as an attractive field because results from an independent study showed that the market for such products reached around $1.18 billion in 2006 and was growing approximately 8 percent per year.

In December 2008, Roche and cellular biology shop Axiogenesis announced plans to co-develop applications for Axiogenesis' murine Cor.At atrial cardiomyocyte platform, and made plans to distribute it with Roche's xCELLigence platform.

Burkhard Ziebolz, head of global communications for Roche Applied Science, told CBA News at the time the company believed that the addition of the Cor.At cell line would strengthen Roche's organ-specific cellular analysis portfolio (see CBA News, 12/12/08).

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