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Software Key to Life Science Mass Spec at Thermo; Biomarker Software, Mascot Integration on Horizon


Thermo Electron has identified software as a "key strategic focus" for its life science mass spectrometry product line in 2006, according to company officials.

Lester Taylor, global product marketing director of life sciences mass spectrometry at Thermo, said that as the mass spec market has expanded, software has become a key factor for many customers. "Increasingly now, there is a wider user [that] includes non mass spec specialists — they may be biologists — and we need to provide not only the hardware to generate the data, but the software that processes and reduces the data into key problem solving information, whether that's for quantitation or for structural identification," he said..

Software development is a "significant area" for Thermo's mass spec division, particularly for the company's Finnigan LTQ FT and OrbiTrap products, "which have become very quickly adopted in the life sciences market," he said. "These are providing levels of structural analysis that have previously not been possible, and so it's key to develop the software tools to exploit high resolution data."

The focus on software is evident at the upper levels of the company's management, as well. As BioInform's sister publication BioCommerce Week reported, Thermo CEO Marijn Dekkers told attendees of the JP Morgan Healthcare conference in January that the firm plans to devote its resources to upgrading its mass spec software products and getting more involved in the biomarker discovery business, which he said is "in our sweet spot of capabilities."

"We know that a lot of users like to use Mascot as a preferred search engine rather than Sequest, so I think we have to look at making that a seamless function for the users.

Last week, in a conference call discussing the company's fourth-quarter 2005 earnings, Dekkers again highlighted biomarkers and protein research — alongside ADME/tox and blood screening for infectious diseases — as applications with "a lot of revenue opportunity" that are ripe for bundled installations of instruments, software, and services.

Thermo's mass spec customers are "always looking for new and additional features and capabilities as the market evolves, and that's particularly true in the area of proteomics," Taylor told BioInform. "For biomarkers in particular, there's a lot of interest in being able to do differential expression, so that is an area where we are actively developing software tools."

Taylor declined to provide more specific information about the company's development plans in this area, but said that more information "will be forthcoming over the next few months."

He also hinted that the company intends to support the Mascot protein search engine from Matrix Science in addition to its own Sequest, which is available as part of its BioWorks package.

"We know that a lot of users like to use Mascot as a preferred search engine rather than Sequest, so I think we have to look at making that a seamless function for the users," he said. While Taylor wouldn't provide a timeline, he said that he expects this capability to be available "in the very near future."

The life science mass spec group is also working on a new software package called MetWorks, for metabolite identification, as well as QuickQuan, which automates quantitation experiments for large-scale compound screening in early-stage discovery.

The company will demonstrate QuickQuan at next month's Pittcon conference in Orlando, and Taylor said that "further developments" in the company's software-development strategy will be disclosed around the time of the annual ASMS meeting, in late May.

— Bernadette Toner ([email protected])

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