This story originally ran on May 24 and has been updated to include comments from early-access users.
By Tony Fong
AB Sciex has launched a new tool that for the first time will allow proteomics researchers to perform qualitative and quantitative research on the same platform.
The instrument, called the AB Sciex TripleTOF 5600, is being showcased at the annual American Society for Mass Spectrometry conference this week in Salt Lake City, and has been excitedly hinted at by company officials for a few months now.
In an interview with ProteoMonitor, Andy Boorn, chief operating officer of AB Sciex, called the instrument "the most important launch" in the 26 years he's been with the company.
Less than four months ago, Danaher completed its purchase of AB Sciex, and the introduction of the TripleTOF 5600, in effect, is a coming-out party for the company under its new management structure, he added. The business was formerly operated as a joint venture by Life Technologies' Applied Biosystems unit and MDS.
In addition to proteomics, the platform was designed to be used for a broad range of life science applications.
According to AB Sciex, the TripleTOF 5600 combines the quantitative capabilities associated with triple quadrupole mass specs with the qualitative information that can be generated with a high-resolution, accurate mass spec system.
"Our intent was to deliver a really different and unique set of features in one instrument," Boorn said. "And that means that at high speed … you can now do the equivalent of multiple-reaction monitoring experiments [at] high sensitivity [and] high speed at the same time that you're acquiring full mass spectra, the whole mass spectrum, every peak from that sample at high resolution."
"It works so well that we were actually worried about [what we were going to do with] our triple quads," Lorne Taylor, director of the Ontario Proteomics Methods Centre at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, and who has been using the system in advance of its release, told ProteoMonitor at the meeting this week.
Ultimately, he noted, the TripleTOF wasn't able to match the sensitivity of his lab's triple-quadrupole machines, but, he said, his team was able to take the data generated by the TripleTOF and use it to generate MRM assays for its triple-quadrupole MS work.
For proteomics work, the TripleTOF 5600 comes as the focus increasingly shifts from the encyclopedic cataloging of proteins to performing targeted investigations in order to answer specific biological questions. Proteomics researchers looking to identify and quantify proteins have normally had to use two different platforms to do so. The TripleTOF 5600 now allows that to be done on one instrument.
"In some cases, that convenience is absolutely required because [the researchers] don't have the funds, they're under tremendous time pressures, the number of samples and the number of analyses they're forced to do doesn't give them the luxury [to bounce] from platform to platform," said Dave Hicks, vice president and general manager of the pharmaceutical and proteomics business at AB Sciex.
The simplicity of the platform's workflow is key, Taylor said.
AB Sciex "has been working very hard to get their very complex technology in the hands of non-experts," he said. "This workflow is dead simple. … We can't afford to have PhDs or masters people running these machines anymore. So we’re hoping this will help."
Added Boorn: "It's taking two workflows and allowing you to do it on one workflow, even in some senses in an a priori manner because you could actually think of using this instrument in a mode that's almost like taking a complete photographic fingerprint of that sample without having to decide up front what you necessarily think is important in that sample and be able to go back to interrogate that dataset after the fact."
As ultra-high performance liquid chromatography takes hold in proteomics and other life-science research, the TripleTOF 5600 will also allow such separation technologies to be coupled with high-resolution mass specs. This has not been possible in the past because such mass specs did not have the required speed to generate the quality of data to keep up with the UHPLC systems, Hicks said,
The versatility of the platform is enabled by a number of technologies first debuted in other recent platforms launched by the company, as well as brand new technologies. The TripleTOF 5600's sensitivity results from quadrupole ion parts originally developed for AB Sciex's the triple-quad 5500 instrument launched in late 2008, Boorn said.
Meanwhile, new designs include a SmartSpeed 100 Hz Acquisition that, according to AB Sciex, is at least five times faster than other high-resolution mass spec systems. And EasyMass Accuracy allows for about 1 ppm mass accuracy without continuous user calibration.
In addition, the platform incorporates the new Accelerator TOF Analyzer for high-resolution data at high speed and the industry's highest sensitivity. According to Boorn, the TOF system in the platform was "built from scratch … particularly with respect to how you capture the ions coming from the quadrupole section exiting the collision cell, how you capture those ions, [without losing] the focus of that ion beam that are able to capture them at high, high frequency and high precision into the time-of-flight section," Boorn said.
[ pagebreak ]
While he declined to elaborate on AB Sciex's plans to launch new technologies derivative of the TripleTOF 5600 — such as the new TOF system as a standalone instrument — Boorn said, "We think there are a lot of unique and IP-protected capabilities in the TOF section, [and] you can certainly expect that this is a platform for future growth in this business."
Along with the instrument, AB Sciex is introducing new software for use on the platform, including Metabolite Pilot for the identification of metabolites in pharmaceutical research, and PeakView for processing and visualizing large amounts of mass spec data.
New versions of existing software include MultiQuant for the quantification of small and large molecules; ProteinPilot for proteomics; LipidView for lipidomics; and MarkerView for metabolomics and biomarker profiling analysis.
According to Gerard Hopfgartner, a professor at the University of Geneva's Mass Spectrometry Center who, like Taylor, has been using the platform, these software developments are nearly as significant as the new TripleTOF 5600 hardware itself.
"It’s just the right timing of software and hardware coming together," he told ProteoMonitor.
The system lists for $650,000 and AB Sciex will begin shipping it in the second half of the year. The TripleTOF 5600 also carries a three-year warranty, which company officials said is unusual for the industry in that other AB Sciex mass specs typically offer a one-year warranty.
The launch comes on the heels of AB Sciex's purchase by conglomerate Danaher in late January (PM 02/05/10). Since the acquisition, AB Sciex has moved to strengthen its position in the mass spec space. While the company was once viewed as the market leader in mass specs, more recently a slowdown in new technology launches from the company even as its competitors pushed out new platforms tarnished the company's shine in the space.
The merger of Invitrogen with ABI in June 2008 creating Life Technologies also left ABI's mass spec business in limbo as Life Tech chose to focus on its other businesses, such as next-generation sequencing.
At the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January, Thermo Fisher Scientific CEO Marc Casper proclaimed his company's intentions to take over the top spot in the mass spec market — if it hadn't already — and said that with the widespread adoption of his company's Orbitrap platform, AB Sciex had lost a "reasonable amount of share" in the mass spec space to Thermo Fisher (PM 01/15/10).
The launch of the TripleTOF 5600, however, punctuates AB Sciex's ambitions moving forward and could become a watershed technology for the company. Mass spec firms are loath to talk about any new technology that hasn't officially launched yet, but in the past three months, the company has taken the unusual step of hyping the then still-to-be-introduced platform, albeit vaguely (PM 03/05/10 and 04/23/10 ).
Last week, Boorn told ProteoMonitor: "In the 26 years I've been associated with the company, this is probably the most important launch in our history."
"We're going really where no man has gone before with the capability and also where no one's gone before with putting our money where our mouth is and saying, 'This is a robust, reliable platform. You don't have to worry about service contracts, you don't have to worry about warranty. We're giving you three years, we're standing behind this product,'" he said. "I think this is a massive launch for AB Sciex and in some sense is our coming-out party in the new integrated organization."
— Adam Bonislawski contributed to this story.