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ABI Releases Control Software for Agilent's Newest LC in Sign of Growing Competition

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Last week, Applied Biosystems/MDS Sciex released software integrating its mass specs with Agilent Technologies’ newest liquid chromatographers in the latest move in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market segment.
 
Ordinarily, the launch of ABI’s 1.4.2 LC/MS control software would barely register a blip. But after Agilent and Thermo Electron released high-end LC systems during the past year, and after Waters took aggressive steps to expand the reach of its high-performance LC system, ABI’s move is a further sign that a heated LC market lies ahead.
 
With the release of the 1.4.2 LC/MS control software, researchers using the Agilent 1200 Series Rapid Resolution LC with an ABI/MDS Sciex mass spectrometer will be able to manage their sample queues on one platform and one computer, said Joseph Anacleto, senior director of the small molecule business at ABI. Ordinarily they would have to switch from one computer for the mass spectrometer to another for the liquid chromatographer.
 
“It allows them to control those devices through our software, so it’s single point-of-control,” Anacleto said. “It allows them to build methods and batches of samples through our software [and] have all the HPLC information and conditions built right into the sample lists so that information then is part of the resulting data file.
 
The single point of control streamlines the ability of researchers to build methods, process data, and analyze samples, Anacleto said. The software is compatible with all ABI triple quadrupole and linear ion trap mass spectrometers.
 
Without the 1.4.2 LC/MS software, researchers can still couple the 1200 Series RRLC with an ABI mass spectrometer but would need to work on two different platforms and two different computers.
 
ABI is selling the Agilent LC along with its own mass spectrometers as part of an original equipment manufacturer’s agreement with Agilent that was originally forged years ago. ABI also has a deal with Waters for the development of control software linking Waters’ Acquity Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography system with ABI’s mass spectrometers though that is not an OEM. While ABI has its own HPLC, Anacleto said that “we are not an LC company. We are focused on the mass spec industry.”
 
Agilent has OEM agreements with Thermo Fisher and Bruker Daltonics coupling Agilent’s LCs with their mass spectrometers. Control software for the 1200 Series RRLC with those companies’ mass specs don’t yet exist, however.
 
Follow the Leader
 
Last week’s news is the fourth such alliance between liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry vendors this year as they maneuvered to capture a greater share of an LC market worth an estimated $3 billion and growing at an annual rate of 5 to 8 percent.
 
First, in March, Waters announced deals with Bruker Daltonics and Thermo Electron to integrate its Acquity UPLC with those companies’ mass spectrometry systems [See PM 03/09/06].
 
Then in late August, signaling a new spirit of détente between two fierce rivals who often waged their battles in a courtroom, Waters and ABI announced a deal to integrate the Acquity system with ABI/MDS Sciex’s mass spectrometers [See PM 09/07/06].
 
Said one analyst, Waters’ partnerships were the results of the new competitive landscape.
 
“It’s a realization they have to be platform-agnostic,” said Peter McDonald of American Technology Research.
 
Neither Waters nor Agilent publicly divulges their LC sales, but McDonald estimated that Waters has 20 to 25 percent of the HPLC market based on revenues, making it the leader, with Agilent second with 15 to 20 percent of the market.
 
Larry Schmid, president and CEO of Strategic Directions International, told ProteoMonitor that while Waters is the clear leader in the overall market, Agilent runs a close second in initial system sales revenue and even exceeds Waters in unit sales.
 
SDI is a consulting and information firm that tracks analytical and life sciences instruments data.
 
In an interview last week with ProteoMonitor, Tony Owen, Agilent’s liquid phase separations division marketing manager, said sales of the LC 1200s substantially exceeded company expectations.
 
“What we are very much convinced about at the moment is that we are gaining market share. The growth rate [that]we are seeing with the 1200 in the last two quarters [is] in excess of any of our competitors that we know of,” he said.
 
Of the Agilent 1200 Series RRLC, the direct competitor to Waters’ Acquity instrument, Owen said, “the rate of uptake … has been quite amazing.”
 
In an e-mail, Schmid said that the 1200 has “succeeded in stemming the tide toward the Acquity by [Agilent’s] loyal customer base. This is especially true of HPLCs attached to the front end of mass spectrometers.”
 

“What we are very much convinced about at the moment is that we are gaining market share. The growth rate which we are seeing with the 1200 in the last two quarters [is] in excess of any of our competitors that we know of.”

Unlike Waters’ arrangements with ABI, Bruker, and Thermo, Agilent’s deal with ABI is an OEM agreement, so customers will have to deal with only one company when purchasing the LC/MS system. ABI is bundling the 1200 Series LCs with its own mass specs and reselling them.
 
According to Owen, Agilent has similar OEMs with Thermo and Bruker and said those two companies are in the process of creating software similar to ABI’s.
 
Edward Long, software marketing manager for Thermo Fisher Scientific, said that the company plans to release within the next six months software that will add native mode support to the existing 1200 controls that are currently available.
 
Bruker did not respond to requests for comments.
 
During the year Agilent also launched several new mass spectrometers [See PM 03/16/06  and 06/01/06].
 
As the company moves ahead with building that business, Owen said the collaboration with ABI is not expected to cannibalize Agilent’s mass spectrometry sales.
 
“There’s always concern [but] in 99 percent of the cases, the users are deciding first [their choice] for the mass spec and then saying ‘We want this LC on the front end of it.’
 
“The LC is not the deciding factor,” Owen said.