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Amersham Bio Turns to Protein Analysis to Breathe Life Into Struggling Discovery Systems


Amersham Biosciences announced this week that it was shifting the focus of its discovery systems business toward protein analysis in proteomics and bioassays, as the com-pany reported reduced overall sales and profits for the first half of 2003.

Amersham Biosciences president Andrew Carr said in a conference call July 29 that Amersham hoped to become a “clear market leader” in proteomics, and that the company would begin to concentrate particularly on protein analysis. The shift would be away from genomics, an area that is now bleeding money for Amersham. “Our shift towards an emphasis on protein analysis is mirroring the external shift in the marketplace away from areas like DNA sequencing,” Richard Cummings, Amersham Biosciences vice president of product management in proteomics, wrote in an e-mail to ProteoMonitor. “For us, this transition is a natural one.”

Carr said he hoped to build upon Amersham’s traditional strength in protein separations to help expand the protein-analysis arm of the business. The company will expand on its protein-labeling products — for which it already has several patents — and in particular its cyanine dye products, which the company licenses for use in sequencing, arrays, and proteomics applications such as 2D gels. Cummings noted that a new cyanine dye product was recently launched for labeling low abundance protein samples, and Carr indicated that another set of products geared particularly for use with cell surface proteins was on the way.

Amersham has also recently added cyanine dye technology to its 2D differential gel electrophoresis technology platform. DIGE is a technique for multiplexed protein analysis that is being marketed alongside the company’s single sample-analysis platform — a platform that includes the use of the company’s newly acquired Melanie 2D gel imaging technology (see PM 7-25-03).

Carr also said that efforts would be made to “extend [Amersham’s] protein labeling intellectual pro-perty,” both for cyanine dyes and for fluorescent protein dyes. Amersham already has a strong foot in the protein dye patent pool: Of the 100 US patents that Amersham or its subsidiaries have been awarded since 2000, several concern dyes for labeling of biomolecules, including proteins. US patent No. 6,348,599 covers cyanine dyes, for example, and No. 6,166,202 was awarded for fluorescent dyes.

According to Carr, this foundation in patents was key to the company’s future success in proteomics. “We’ve got good IP that we will leverage to make sure that we keep ahead of the game in these areas,” Carr said in the conference call. “We’ve looked very hard at who the competition are and find that there are not such well-established competitors that we would find it difficult to fight against [them] in the market.” Amersham officials did not disclose the competitors to which they were referring.

In its financial round-up, Amersham’s parent company, Amersham PLC, reported £808 million ($1.3 billion) in sales for the first half of 2003, which is down from £812 million in the first half of 2002. Amersham Biosciences reported £133 million in sales for its protein separations business for the first half, and £192 million in sales for the discovery systems section — which includes genomics, proteomics, and bioassays — compared to £131 million in sales for protein separations and £202 million for discovery systems in the first half of 2002. The company noted that although sales in the discovery systems section declined compared to the year-ago period, proteomics and bioassays sales grew. However, setbacks in the genomics section overcame these gains.

The company said the restructuring of the discovery systems unit, first announced in February, was “ahead of schedule,” and headcount had been reduced by 210 people thus far, with planned headcount reductions of 445 staff. In this restructuring, Amersham said research is now “consolidated” in the Piscataway, NJ area, whereas development is spread between Cardiff, UK; Uppsala, Sweden; and Piscataway; and manufacturing is now taking place in Cardiff and Umea, Sweden.

The Biosciences unit had a net profit of £33 million, compared to £36 million in the year-ago period. This included a £43 million profit from the protein separations business and a £10 million loss from the discovery systems unit, compared to £48 million in profit from protein separations and a £12 million loss for the discovery systems unit, including a net expenditure of £7 million for the CodeLink microarray system, in the first half of 2002.

Total R&D expenditure was up to £91 million for the first half, from £90 million in the first half of 2002. These outlays included increased R&D expenses for protein sepa-rations, along with reduced R&D in discovery systems, due to the restructuring of the discovery systems unit.



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