By Ben Butkus
Agilent Technologies this week beefed up its automated electrophoresis and genetic analysis portfolio by acquiring Scottish company Lab901 for an undisclosed amount.
The acquisition is expected to complement Agilent's existing commercial offerings for gel electrophoresis through the addition of Lab901's automated benchtop gel electrophoresis system and associated consumables.
In addition, Lab901 has been cultivating its products for use in downstream analysis of multiplex PCR-based diagnostic tests, and has inked agreements in this area with companies such as Biofortuna and Seegene – relationships that Agilent will be evaluating as it integrates Lab901 in coming weeks, a company official said.
Privately held Lab901, based in Edinburgh, UK, employs 45 people and will be integrated into Agilent's Liquid Phase Analysis Division, within the company's Life Sciences Group. Lab901 markets the TapeStation benchtop electrophoresis instrument and ScreenTape plastic consumables for automated gel electrophoresis.
ScreenTape is a ready-to-use credit-card-sized tape containing 16 microgels that allow users to analyze up to 16 DNA, RNA, or protein samples at a rate of one minute per sample, with no gel preparation or chip priming, according to the company's website.
Meantime, the TapeStation instrument, about the same size as a desktop printer, is used to analyze the ScreenTape consumable. TapeStation has a liquid-handling system that loads each individual sample onto the ScreenTape, which is aligned inside the instrument with built-in electrodes and an imaging system.
TapeStation can be connected to a laptop computer running controller software; and the instrument can also automatically distinguish and analyze 96-well plates, according to Lab901.
In an e-mail to PCR Insider, Patrick Kaltenbach, vice president of Agilent's Liquid Phase Separations business, said that Lab901's products "are complementary to Agilent's strong electrophoresis portfolio," which includes the Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer and the G7100 Capillary Electrophoresis System.
Kaltenbach added that the ScreenTape system offers customers "a unique combination of automation, ease of use, and scalable throughput," and is "ideally suited for sample quality control in next-generation sequencing and gene-expression workflows, as well as protein electrophoresis and DNA fragment analysis in core labs."
Lab901 currently markets its products for bio-pharma R&D and quality control, and to researchers at academic and government institutions. Those target markets are unlikely to change for Agilent, which noted that it can now offer products across the entire span of electrophoresis life science applications, from semi-automated to 96-well-plate-compatible workflows.
"Agilent has a strong presence in all these markets and is meeting customer demands with the acquisition of Lab901's product portfolio," Kaltenbach said. "For customers, this translates to a full spectrum of products and services from a single, trusted vendor with global service [and] support and [a] recognized brand."
However, Lab901 has been dabbling in another market that Agilent has not: multiplex PCR-based diagnostics.
In 2008, Lab901 signed an agreement with Korea's Seegene to distribute the ScreenTape system in Korea. Lab901 currently sells ScreenTape systems that are optimized for use with Seegene's Seeplex kits for endpoint, multiplexed PCR detection of infectious diseases such as respiratory viruses, sepsis, sexually transmitted diseases, and diarrheal diseases.
In addition, in 2009 Lab901 and Biofortuna struck a pact to develop an automated PCR-based diagnostic system to rapidly detect celiac disease and other diseases related to human leukocyte antigen status, such as reactive arthritis, diabetes, and drug hypersensitivity (PCR Insider, 11/17/2009).
Under that agreement, Lab901 said that it would optimize the ScreenTape platform for use with Liverpool, UK-based Biofortuna’s multiplex PCR diagnostics kits.
At this point, it is unclear whether or how Agilent will integrate these aspects of Lab901's business.
"We will review all existing contracts with Lab901 distributors in the next few weeks, and align them with our channel and business strategy," Kaltenbach said. "The PCR Dx opportunity is linked to those discussions, and we will give an update once the reviews are complete."
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