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ABI Positions Itself as a Technology Consultant; Plans to Introduce LC/MALDI-TOF Mass Spec

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When it comes to integrating proteomics with its other offerings, Applied Biosystems is considering taking a page out of another three-letter heavyweight's playbook: like IBM, ABI is moving toward a consulting-oriented business model for customers whose needs span the proteomics as well as gene expression space, ABI executives said last week at the Drug Discovery Technology conference.

We have the “opportunity to migrate from consulting on individual [products] to consulting on the entire limits of gene expression and protein expression,” said VP of Genomics Dennis Gilbert, standing next to Dave Hicks, the director of marketing for proteomics applications.

In this “consultative biology mode, the company would combine its gene expression and sequencing expertise with its proteomics instruments, reagents, and services. Customers would be guided toward particular products, services, or combinations thereof based on a deep assessment of their needs.

There is “no benefit to driving the wrong product into the hole for a particular sale,” Gilbert said.

But how can the company do this with 5,000 miles between its Framingham, Mass., proteomics research center and its Foster City, Calif., headquarters?

“ABI is worldwide,” said Gilbert. The separation between Framingham and Foster City is “almost invisible.” Gilbert noted that the company is expanding in Japan, especially with the country’s national proteome project gearing up.

“We have a strong and consistent internal collaboration effort” between the proteomics research center and the genomics business, said Hicks. And the business development group, which is focused on pharma, pitches the company as “a group doing complex biological research” involving proteomics, informatics, and genomics rather than a set of autonomous units, Hicks said.

The consultation can also take place within the proteomics space, Hicks said, for example, in advising customers on how to use the company’s fleet of mass spec machines together with a reagent platform.

ABI’s proteomics team has been using the new 4700 proteomics analyzer – which has TOF/TOF optics and runs on an Oracle platform – for its in-house projects so far, including Celera’s new protein factory, Hicks said. Now ABI researchers are combining the 4700 with their ICAT reagents, “to create a whole new workflow” for characterizing and profiling proteins.

This combination of the Oracle-based 4700 with the ICAT reagents creates an opportunity for the company to go into “consulting mode” with customers, Hicks said. The idea is to develop proteomics systems using these pieces that are “an order of magnitude” better in terms of analyzing proteins than customers’ previous approaches.

The company has also been consulting with customers on its new Q-TRAP, which it introduced at this year’s ASMS meeting in Orlando. The consultations are more a matter of running test samples and teaching customers how to use the machine best, and not as much the typical post launch beta-testing that often happens with cutting edge systems, according to Hicks, because the company waited until the Q-TRAP was “a complete product” to ship it to customers.

Up Next: LC/MALDI-TOF

Next, ABI plans to introduce to the market a combination of LC and MALDI TOF. The new LC/MALDI process has the advantage of allowing researchers to return to the LC sample “over and over,” Hicks said. ABI is describing this technique at the 5th Siena proteomics meeting in Italy in early September.

Will there be an LC/MALDI consulting service too? Not yet, but ABI is definitely moving toward more post-sale involvement with customers, Hicks said.

– MMJ

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