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Leaner by 33 Staffers and One CEO, InforMax Packs up for Invitrogen s Frederick Facility

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With its acquisition by Invitrogen sealed in mid-December, InforMax officially began 2003 as a standalone division of the Carlsbad, Calif.-based life science firm. But signs of InforMax’s absorption into Invitrogen are just beginning to surface. Earlier this month, InforMax laid off 33 employees in a move to eliminate redundancy and cut costs, COO and CFO John Green told BioInform last week. This week, the new subsidiary will begin moving its remaining 120 Bethesda, Md.-based employees to an Invitrogen primer manufacturing facility in Frederick, Md.

Integration-related changes are evident from the top levels on down: Although Invitrogen originally said it would keep InforMax CEO Andrew Whiteley as president of the division, he is no longer with the company. Green will oversee the daily operations of the unit, and will report directly to Invitrogen CEO Jim Glynn. The balance of the InforMax management team, including CSO Steve Lincoln, VP of marketing Janet Lynch Lambert, and VP of sales John Lippard, remains intact.

An integration team made up of employees from both companies began evaluating the capabilities of the combined entity in October and started to implement elements of the integration strategy upon completion of the acquisition in December, Green told BioInform. On the table: everything from product development, sales, and marketing to infrastructure issues, IT capabilities, and human resource support.

Not surprisingly, InforMax retained most of its core bioinformatics and software development capabilities, while Invitrogen picked up any duties that it could readily handle. The InforMax division will comprise a dedicated R&D group, sales force, professional services team, and tech support group, Green said, while taking advantage of Invitrogen’s marketing, human resources, and finance capabilities. “We’re maintaining that expertise that touches the product and directly touches the customer, and then in all other areas...we’re going to be leveraging Invitrogen’s expertise,” said Green.

Thus, the layoffs, which took place “across the board,” were carried out in line with this philosophy: “key disciplines” of product development, sales, and professional services remain, while “duplicate costs” have been eliminated from the InforMax payroll.

170-Strong Global Sales Force

The final headcount of 120 dedicated InforMax employees will be augmented by Invitrogen’s sales and marketing force — comprising approximately 100 people in North America and another 70 people in Europe. “A couple of senior product managers” will remain part of the InforMax unit, Green said, but the Invitrogen sales team will now begin to generate leads for InforMax’s direct and telesales efforts. InforMax is anticipating a ramp-up in software sales at it begins to fully utilize Invitrogen’s large sales staff over the next few quarters.

Green said that InforMax will maintain its existing distributor network for the time being, which includes small firms such as United Bioinformatics in Canada and SciMax in Germany, who rely on the sale of InforMax products as their primary source of revenue. But these arrangements are also under evaluation as the integration process moves forward, Green said: “We’re looking to see who the best distributors are to retain, and then matching [them] up against Invitrogen’s presence in those markets, and we’ll make a determination as to whether to maintain distributors, or seek some combination of direct sales and distributors, or go all the way to direct sales.”

The acquisition will not impact InforMax’s product strategy, which was carefully reworked over the course of 2002. The division will continue to focus its product development efforts on its expanding Vector NTI suite of desktop products, and will also support and sell its GenoMax enterprise solution, although “we don’t see that as a key growth area for us in the future,” Green said.

Invitrogen still plans to exploit InforMax’s desktop presence and software engineering capabilities to ramp up its e-commerce platform, but “that work is just starting to be designed and formulated,” Green said. The two companies are now evaluating how their respective in silico and wet lab product lines match up, he noted.

New Home, New Culture

For now, employees of the two firms are still getting acquainted with each other, a process that will most likely be accelerated when InforMax employees leave their current home in Bethesda to work shoulder-to-shoulder with Invitrogen staffers in Frederick this week. Aside from 20 InforMax employees doing contract programming work for the NIH, the entire 120-person company will be relocated to the facility, where Invitrogen currently manufactures primers and maintains some IT and sales support staff. Aside from reducing overall fixed costs, the move “will be a great way for us to assimilate into their culture,” said Green.

For InforMax employees, immersion in the larger entity will take a little bit of getting used to, but Green noted that “Invitrogen has a very positive customer-focused, but very much results-oriented culture, which is something that we were trying to establish with InforMax, so I think that they provide an excellent role model or benchmark for us to assimilate into.” In addition, he said, “it’s envisaged that the scientific and technical expertise that we have in bioinformatics can also be applied to developing new products along with Invitrogen, as well as enhancing their existing product line.”

Some industry observers have remarked that Invitrogen’s track record of gutting the companies it acquires, such as Life Technologies and Research Genetics, increases the likelihood that another round of layoffs will soon hit InforMax’s employees. Others, however, note that the InforMax business is sufficiently different from Invitrogen’s to warrant its healthy — and long-lived — existence as a standalone business unit. As Lakshmi Bhojraj, an analyst who covers Invitrogen for Salomon Smith Barney, pointed out, “the businesses are separate enough — it’s bioinformatics on one hand vs. consumables and chemistries on the other hand.” However, she added, “As far as whether the layoffs are over, it’s really hard to tell.”

Invitrogen will provide an update of the InforMax integration strategy when it releases its Q4 2002 earnings in early February.

— BT

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