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Finnzymes Buy to Enhance Thermo Fisher's qPCR Reagent, Instrument Plays

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This article was originally published on Feb. 3.

By Ben Butkus

Thermo Fisher Scientific's planned acquisition of Finnish molecular biology company Finnzymes, announced yesterday, is expected to both complement and enhance the life science giant's nascent quantitative PCR play, a company official said this week.

The acquisition will also provide Thermo Fisher with its first PCR instrument platform, and may provide the company with a foothold in the rapidly growing PCR-based molecular diagnostics market, according to the official.

Privately held Finnzymes, based in Espoo, Finland, has 90 employees and generated revenues of $20 million in 2009. It specializes in reagents, instrumentation, and labware for high-performance PCR, reverse transcription PCR, and real-time quantitative PCR.

Mitch Kennedy, vice president and general manager of biosciences at Thermo Fisher, told PCR Insider today that Thermo Fisher has been looking to expand its PCR product portfolio for the last couple of years.

The company's most recent play in this area include the October launch of its Solaris qPCR gene expression assays, which use minor groove binder and "superbase" technologies to deliver "repeatable, sensitive, and gene-specific quantification," according to the Thermo Fisher website.

Of particular interest to Thermo Fisher are Finnzymes' Phire and Phusion proprietary DNA polymerases, according to Kennedy. The Phusion DNA polymerases are included in kits offered by Finnzymes for amplifying DNA from whole blood and for bacterial profiling; while the Phire polymerases are used in kits that amplify DNA directly from a wide variety of animal and plant tissues.

Finnzymes claims that these proprietary engineered polymerases outperform Taq-based polymerases in terms of speed and fidelity and are ideal for both routine and high-throughput PCR applications.

"In this acquisition, we were certainly very attracted to the Finnzymes portfolio because of their work with fusion proteins and improving and enhancing the properties of the enzymes used in PCR," Kennedy said.

Thermo Fisher said that the Phire and Phusion DNA polymerases are expected to increase the performance of its Solaris qPCR assays to deliver a "more complete solution" for customers.

In addition, Finnzymes markets the Piko brand thermal cyclers. Available in 24- and 96-well formats, the Piko platform is about half the size of conventional thermal cyclers, yet the company claims they can complete a PCR protocol in as little as 10 minutes, which rivals or betters many other competing thermal cyclers.

"The Piko cycler is a very affordable, low-cost thermocycler that enables more laboratories to perform PCR in a routine fashion," Kennedy said.

Piko will be Thermo Fisher's first instrumentation platform for PCR. Because it is optimized for use with the Phire and Phusion PCR kits, it will allow Thermo for the first time to sell integrated PCR instrumentation and kits to its customers.

Kennedy told PCR Insider that Thermo Fisher has also been looking at how it might add medium-sized or large PCR instrument platforms to its portfolio to complement the smaller-sized Piko. "We don't have anything available yet, but that is something we are certainly considering," Kennedy said.

"I think that in order for any company to provide their customers with the best product offering you need to always be looking at innovative technologies and combinations of technologies that allow you to do something unique and differentiating that will ultimately deliver better results for the customer."

Lastly, Kennedy said that Finnzymes has proprietary thin-walled plastic labware that complements Thermo Fisher's Thermo Scientific brand of thin-walled plastics that help increase the speed of PCR reactions.

The Finnzymes buy may also open the door for Thermo Fisher into the PCR-based molecular diagnostics arena. Kennedy said that the Finnish company "has been looking to expand into molecular diagnostics with tests that are based on PCR," but did not elaborate.

"So not only did [Finnzymes] have some basic technology that complements things we already do or could enhance what we offer; but it also expands the overall breadth of applications that we'd be serving," Kennedy said.

Finnzymes will be integrated primarily into Thermo Fisher's Analytical Technologies segment, which includes Kennedy's biosciences division. Meantime, some of Finnzyme's equipment and consumable product lines will be added to Thermo Fisher's Laboratory Products and Services segment.

Thermo Fisher did not disclose the Finnzymes acquisition price, and will likely not do so until later in the first quarter, when the transaction is expected to close. Thermo Fisher said that the acquisition is not expected to impact its 2010 financial results.

Kennedy said it was too early to comment on whether Thermo Fisher plans to retain Finnzymes' facilities and employees in Espoo, although he did say that Thermo already has a strong presence in Finland.

Finnzymes also has US operations located in Woburn, Mass., about 15 miles from Thermo's corporate headquarters in Waltham, Mass.

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