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Agilent, 'Reinvesting in Core Business,' Plans to Double Its Share of Mass Spec Market by 2008


Following the launch of its 1200 series high-speed liquid chromatography system last week, Agilent this week released five new mass spectrometers, and said that it plans to double its share of the mass spectrometry market by 2008.

Agilent officials said during a media briefing that the company has been "reinvesting back into core businesses" over the last four years, and as a result is "expanding the portfolio in areas where we've had gaps."

Agilent's new mass specs include the company's first-ever Q-TOF and triple quadrupole, and updates to its ion trap, TOF, and single quadrupole mass specs.

Agilent believes there is "room in the market" for these new products, said Taia Ergueta, general manager of mass spectrometry at Agilent. According to Agilent, the $1.3-billion mass spec market is growing at 9 percent, with triple quads and TOFs growing faster than other portions of the market.

"Part of what gives us the confidence to come in and have this kind of an aggressive goal is that we've done it twice before in the single quad space and the GC/MS space," said Ergueta, referring to Agilent's entrance into the GC/MS market in the mid-1970s, and its entrance into the single quad LC/MS market in the 1980s. "In both cases, it was by coming in at a time when there was room."

Agilent spokeswoman Christina Maehr expanded upon Ergueta's comment, saying that Agilent has a history of introducing new products into the market when "the market was considered fairly mature, but the technology was going from highly technical — something used only by core lab specialists — to something that could be made more routine and simple."

"Part of what gives us the confidence to come in and have this kind of an aggressive goal is that we've done it twice before in the single quad space and the GC/MS space."

Agilent believes that mass specs are now moving from being very technical instruments to being easier to use, more routine instruments, said Maehr.

6510 Q-TOF

For proteomics research, Agilent billed its new 6510 Q-TOF mass spec as good for both protein identification and proteomic profiling.

According to Agilent, the 6510 Q-TOF offers attomole sensitivity for MS and MS/MS, and a mass accuracy of 1 ppm to 3 ppm for MS, and 5 ppm for MS/MS. The instrument scans at a speed of 20 scans per second, and has up to 15,000 resolving power.

"TOF technology is known for delivering accurate mass — people expect that from a Q-TOF," said Ergueta. "Now we have accurate mass and ion trap-level sensitivity."

Ergueta said that she expects the new Q-TOF to be a "workhorse" for the proteomics, metabolomics, and pharmaceutical markets. She added that it will probably take over part of both the linear trap and ion trap markets, because this is a machine can do both profiling and identification.

Ergueta declined to give a price for the new Q-TOF, which will be available for order on May 1, and shipping in late summer.

Agilent's new Q-TOF and triple quad look well-designed, said Keqi Tang, a high-throughput proteomics researcher at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who had a chance to look at the instruments during an Agilent-sponsored event last month.

"The unique feature is in the collision cell," Tang told ProteoMonitor. "The design used a resistive metal rod that allows you to couple a DC field into it and speed up the cycle of MS/MS."

Tang said that he has not had a chance to test out Agilent's new instruments, but he is very pleased with the mass accuracy of the Agilent ESI-TOF that he has been using for the past two years.

Agilent's biggest competitors for its Q-TOF are probably Waters and ABI, Tang said. In addition to having good mass accuracy and dynamic range, Agilent's Q-TOF has a space-saving advantage in that it is the first top-quality Q-TOF that is considered a bench-top instrument, he added.

"Waters has a Q-TOF Micro, but that is significantly lower in resolution," said Tang.

Waters' vice president of investor relations, Gene Cassis, responded by saying, "We've been in Q-TOF technology for ten years. One of the things we know from years of experience is that real performance is when one sample is run against another in real life applications. Before we comment [on Agilent's Q-TOF], we're going to have to see it in a real world application."

6300 Ion Trap, 6210 TOF

For protein identification, the ion trap mass spec remains a "strong mainstay," said Ergueta.

"That level of sensitivity [that the ion trap offers] is something that people really seek when they're doing a lot of protein identification work," she said.

The updated 6300 Series ion trap offers new capabilities in post-translational modifications, Agilent said. The instrument's Electron Transfer Dissociation fragmentation technique enables researchers to label the point of attachment of the post-translational modification to amino acids.

Agilent's rivals in the ion trap market include Thermo Electron, Bruker, and Applied Biosystems. The 6300 Series ion trap costs between $190,000 and $260,000 — a price that is "very comparable to the pricing of competitors," according to Maehr.

The new ion trap will be available March 1.

For proteomic profiling, where researchers compare two different samples in an effort to find biomarkers, the TOF mass spec is "really distinguishing itself," said Ergueta.

"What you find is that you can use the mass accuracy of the TOF to do profiling, without fully knowing yet the compounds," she said. "You can get a profile of two different samples, and that enables you to do the work that people are doing in biomarker discovery. Then once they know the proteins of interest, they can fully ID them using the ion trap."

The updated 6210 TOF instrument offers over four times the throughput of Agilent's previous TOF, said Ergueta. The instrument has better than 3 ppm mass accuracy, three to four orders of magnitude in spectrum dynamic range, and scans five to 10 times per second over a wide mass range.

The 6210 TOF costs $226,000. It is currently available for order.

6410 Triple Quad, 1200 Single Quad

Agilent billed its new 6410 triple quadrupole mass spec as good for quantitative and metabolomics research, as well as food safety, environmental, chemical, forensic, and pharmaceutical research.

With a cost of $205,000, the instrument is priced "30 to 50 percent lower than comparable instruments," said Ergueta. ABI's API 5000 trip quad instrument, for example, costs about $400,000.

The new 6410 triple quad will be shipping in late summer.

Finally, Agilent's updated 1200 series single quad has doubled the throughput of the company's previous single quad, Ergueta said.

The instrument ranges in price from $90,000 to $150,000. Maehr said that prices for all the updated mass specs are similar to their predecessor instruments.

All of Agilent's new mass specs are compatible with the company's HPLC-Chip technology, which replaces traditional HPLC columns with a credit card-sized chip (see ProteoMonitor 10/22/2004). In addition, all the instruments are compatible with Agilent's multi-mode ion source, which is capable of simultaneously operating electrospray ionization and atmospheric pressure chemical ionization.

Ergueta emphasized that one factor that Agilent has paid a lot of attention to is the reliability of its mass spec instruments.

According to an Agilent survey, "on average, 25 percent of mass specs are down at one time," Ergueta said. "That's an unacceptable level of reliability."

In an attempt to counter poor reliability, Agilent uses common parts and a common manufacturing system, according to Chris van Ingen, president of the company's Life Sciences and Chemical Analysis division.

"For example, the triple quad and Q-TOF are using the same collision cell for discovery. … That gives greater confidence and consistency of results," he said.

New Liquid Chromatography System

One week before Agilent unveiled its five new mass specs, the company launched a new high-resolution, high-speed liquid chromatography system that competes with Waters' Acquity Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography system.

Maehr, who served as launch coordinator for the instrument, called the 1200 Series LC, told ProteoMonitor's sister publication BioCommerce Week last week that the tool is "better" than the Acquity UPLC because it provides "every type of chromatography you want to do," including prep scale, nano, standard, capillary, and high-speed — all on the same platform. In addition, the system performs better than the Acquity at a lower pressure, Maehr added.

"Waters has been pushing pressure because that's one of the ways you can get speed and resolution, but it's not the only way," she said. "And it's a way that has a downside because the higher pressure you operate at the more likely you are to cause instrument failure."

Waters' vice president of investor relations, Gene Cassis, responded by saying, "We designed this system for the higher pressure. Typically, people are running it two or three times the pressure limits of HPLC, and that may sound like a lot, but it's not orders of magnitude more pressure."

The new 1200 LC system is back-compatible and with its predecessor 1100 system. It ranges in price between $45,000 and $60,000 for a complete system.

— Tien Shun Lee ([email protected])

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