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GeneProt Opts for Q-TOFs at US Facility, Spends $20M on Micromass

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Rounding out the selection of protein analysis equipment for its US proteomics factory, GeneProt has chosen Micromass to install Q-TOF mass spectrometers and liquid chromatography systems valued at $20 million in its North Brunswick, NJ, facility, the companies said last week. In addition, Micromass will make an equity investment of up to $10 million in GeneProt.

Neither GeneProt nor Micromass would disclose the percent stake corresponding to the $10 million investment, but in a previous deal with Compaq, GeneProt said a $10 million investment represented a 2.2 percent stake in the company.

The most recent partnership for GeneProt follows on the heels of its announcement last month that Bruker Daltonics would supply six MALDI-TOF/TOF mass spectrometers to GeneProt’s North Brunswick facility, which the company hopes to have up and running sometime in the second or third quarter of next year.

But the choice of Micromass to provide the bulk of the workhorse mass spectrometers represents a departure from GeneProt’s previous round of spectrometer shopping. To outfit its flagship protein analysis facility in Geneva, which opened in April of this year, GeneProt relied exclusively on Waltham, Mass.-based Bruker for 45 Esquire 3000 ion trap and six Reflex III MALDI-TOF mass spectrometers.

Specifically, GeneProt will take delivery of 40 integrated CapLC and Q-TOF micro systems, each consisting of a capillary liquid chromatography device connected with a quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer, and five Q-TOF instruments without an accompanying chromatography system. Micromass will begin shipping the equipment during the second quarter of next year and most likely complete delivery during the third quarter, said Brian Mazar, a vice president for investor relations at Milford, Mass.-based Waters, which owns Micromass.

The switch to Micromass’ Q-TOF instrument, which became available in March of this year, doesn’t imply that GeneProt’s Geneva facility is performing beneath expectations, said Keith Rose, GeneProt’s chief scientific officer, but rather that the company is taking advantage of new technology with improved technical capabilities.

“We’re very happy here with the ion traps, so this isn’t in any way saying that we want to change [what we’re doing in Geneva],” Rose said. “A Q-TOF platform is more expensive than an ion trap platform but it can offer higher mass precision and wider mass range, and this comes at a cost in dollars and complexity.”

Bruker said that it had known in advance that GeneProt was considering Q-TOF technology for its New Jersey facility, and had not included additional revenue from GeneProt as part of its financial outlook.

Rose added that GeneProt also considered purchasing Q-TOF mass spectrometers from Applied Biosystems, but would not comment on the reason for choosing Micromass.

Although the Geneva facility uses two of Micromass’ Alliance HPLC systems per mass spectrometer, GeneProt’s US laboratory will employ only one CapLC system per mass spectrometer, Rose said. The CapLC also has other advantages over the Alliance, such as higher sensitivity and the ability to separate proteins with less sample than the Alliance system, said Micromass’ Mazar.

The sale of equity to an instrument supplier is not the first for GeneProt, which sold an undisclosed amount of stock to Bruker in September 2000 as part of the deal to supply GeneProt’s Geneva facility with mass spectrometers. Both Compaq and Novartis have acquired equity in the company as well, making investments of $10 million and $43 million, respectively.

But Micromass’ equity stake is just one part of a relationship with GeneProt that extends beyond merely being an equipment supplier, Mazar said.

“It’s a reasonable equity investment that allows us to work with them to look at intellectual property that comes out of some of the work,” he said. Micromass would have exclusive rights to commercialize changes to the instrumentation that optimize the equipment for proteomics applications, he said. Waters has a similar arrangement with Caprion Pharmaceuticals of Montreal.

— JSM

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