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Bio-Rad Gets a Proteomics Makeover with New Division and New Marketing Initiative

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Bio-Rad Laboratories is preparing to make a big push into the proteomics market by creating in-house a new expression proteomics division and a planned re-launch of some of its separations and analysis products under a proteomics umbrella, ProteoMonitor has learned. The changes are part of a larger reorganization of the Bio-Rad’s life sciences segment that took place in September 2003, which aimed at regrouping the company’s products into more application-focused groups, according to Gabriella Armin, newly appointed marketing manager for expression proteomics at Bio-Rad.

As part of the new arrangement, Bio-Rad in January severed its co-marketing relationship with Waters’ mass spec subsidiary Micromass, according to Armin. Bio-Rad had been co-marketing several of its protein separations products in collaboration with Micromass’ mass specs since 1999, as the ProteomeWorks system. Bio-Rad was not interested in continuing the relationship because it didn’t want to be tied down to a single mass spec company with its new program, Armin said. “This gives us more flexibility … [that our products] might go with a number of different mass spec products,” she told ProteoMonitor. While Bio-Rad currently has some “involvement” with other mass spec vendors, Armin said, it has not organized any other official alliances or co-marketing agreements, in order to keep its options open.

The new marketing campaign will group products involved with sample preparations, 2D gels, and 2D-imaging and -analysis software together into an Expression Proteomics platform that can be purchased together or in parts. The way in which Bio-Rad manufactures these products — and develops new ones — is changing as well, according to Armin. “This is the first time all the products are together in one group,” she said. Because Bio-Rad previously did not organize its manufacturing or R&D divisions by application, proteomics-related products were developed and made in a variety of different divisions, with little communication among divisions and little knowledge in one division as to what those in other divisions were doing. With the creation of the Expression Proteomics group, products will now be developed in application-focused groups. “This is now a true R&D product development exercise,” Armin said.

In line with this reorganization, Bio-Rad is opening a proteomics applications lab that will be devoted to developing proteomics-specific applications for the company’s products. “We put out a lot of tools, but we haven’t done a great job of putting them out in an applications basis,” Armin said. Armin pointed to competitor Amersham Biosciences — which puts out similar 2D gel, image, and analysis products — as a company that has done a good job of marketing its products specifically to the proteomics market. This is a model, she said, for how Bio-Rad hopes to approach the market.

“Amersham has the top position in applications,” she said, contending that this standing has resulted primarily from a smart marketing campaign. “It’s all in the way you position things. We’re as good or better, but people don’t know that.” She did not name any particular proteomics applications that Bio-Rad would focus on, but acknowledged biomarker discovery as one possibility.

None of the initial offerings in the Expression Proteomics platform will be completely new, but Armin said she intended to add new products soon, particularly in the area of liquid chromatography and perhaps other 2D gel alternatives. “We’re looking to expand past 2D gels, but there’s not one golden sword,” she said. “If you want to be a provider for everything, you have to do things differently.”

‘It’s Not Just Mass Spec’

If Bio-Rad uses biomarker discovery as a branding strategy, it won’t be the first large supplier of products with proteomic applications to take that tack. Beckman Coulter this month celebrated the first anniversary of its ProteomeLab initiative, a similar strategy that has as its goal “provid[ing] standardized solutions to proteomics to enable biomarker discovery,” according to proteomics business manager Jeff Chapman.

The ProteomeLab initiative last year began advertising existing products ranging from liquid handling robots to ultracentrifuges as part of an “overall solution” for proteomics research, following this up by quickly adding two new products: PF 2D, a 2D fractionation system; and PA 800, a capillary electrophoresis system.

This week during Beckman Coulter’s annual corporate update webcast, Chapman announced that the company would ship a third product next month: a microarray product that will be available as a 12-cytokine panel as well as in a format in which “the user will be able to create their own multiplex.” The A2 Microarray System, which Beckman initially was to have released last year (see PM 2-10-03), will consist of wells studded with oligonucleotide linkers, to which the proteins will be attached via complementary oligos, Chapman said. These arrays will enter the market after a year delay following problems with “the ability to make these arrays under a high production yield,” Chapman told ProteoMonitor. Additionally, he said that Beckman will continue to commercialize other content arrays containing panels “some of which have been defined by customers we’ve been working with.” He said the first of these new arrays was likely to be released in the next six months.

The reasoning behind developing ProteomeLab is similar to that for Bio-Rad’s Expression Proteomics. “When a lot of people think of proteomics, they think of mass spectrometry,” Chapman said during the webcast. “But clearly the dollars spent on technology to tackle the challenge is greater than that — in fact it’s estimated to be about $4 billion. … Over 50 percent of the technologies and tools used [in that market] are residing within Beckman Coulter.”

Beckman’s strategy is not only to re-brand existing products, Chapman said, but also to use base technologies for which it already has IP and expertise, and use them to develop new products specifically for proteomics. But re-branding is clearly part of the equation: Beckman during the webcast provided a list linking each application step of biomarker discovery — from sample prep to fractionation to protein identification to the development of a diagnostic — with a particular group of products already existing in Beckman’s portfolio.

The strategy of presenting this group of existing and new products as an integrated package has been working, according to Chapman: Beckman sold 160 ProteomeLab systems in its first 10 months and Chapman is anticipating 20 percent growth over the next five years.

—KAM

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