In recent years, large instrument vendors like Thermo Fisher Scientific, Bruker, and AB Sciex have, through acquisitions and product releases, placed increased emphasis on providing proteomics customers not just core instrumentation but full workflows encompassing everything from sample prep through to backend data analysis.
Now, a group of smaller vendors has joined together to better compete with the broadening offerings of the established instrument giants by forming the Proteomics Innovation Network, a coalition of 13 proteomics service and product firms that have agreed to informally link their companies.
Launched six weeks ago out of a series of discussions among the participating firms on the website LinkedIn, the network aims to "coalesce a number of different proteomic product and service providers in an informal association to bring together complete solutions to proteomics projects," said Matthew Kuruc, chief operating officer of Monmouth Junction, NJ-based ProFact Proteomics, one of the thirteen participating firms.
In addition to ProFact, which specializes in functional proteomics for cancer drug and biomarker development, the network includes: Horluce Bioconsulting, a French company focusing on infectious diseases and proteomics; Eprogen, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based firm specializing in protein separation and expression analysis; Zurich-based Dualsystems Biotech, which offers small molecule-target screening and protein complex and pathway analysis; Gardner, Mass.-based NEP, a custom peptide and antibody firm; Frankfort, Ky.-based New Liberty Proteomics, which specializes in target and biomarker development and drug repositioning, and Norton Scientific, a Canadian firm focused on instruments for protein measurement.
Also participating are French CRO Innova Proteomics, Australian CRO APAF, Monmouth Junction, NJ-based CLIA lab NeoloMed Biosciences, the Ontario Cancer Biomarker Network, protein separation firm Focus Proteomics, and Woburn, Mass.-based sample prep company Covaris.
The hope, Norton Scientific CEO Bryan Webb told ProteoMonitor, is that by banding together the companies can generate leads and business for one another and offer their customers the sort of complete workflows larger firms are increasingly looking to provide.
"We thought that we should get together and talk about what our companies are doing and how we might be able to help each other as smaller companies [to compete with] some of the big guys like Waters and Wyatt," he said. "We had a couple of webinars where everybody had five or 10 minutes to expand on what they did as a company and the kind of customers they were looking for, and we all decided it would be a neat thing to get together as a group that could support each other and maybe make some inroads to help customers."
ProFact is "really a core separations firm, but what we're offering based on our separations are ways to develop functional molecular profiles, and to generate those profiles we have to have certain assays available and certain ways to interrogate the various subproteomes that we make," Kuruc told ProteoMonitor. "So we need other people's technology."
"I think a lot of people fall into that," he said. "They have one aspect of the proteomics workflow, but they don't have either the upfront capabilities or the downstream capabilities to provide a complete solution."
Large instrument vendors have often addressed this issue through acquisitions – Thermo Fisher's recent purchases of LC firms Proxeon and Dionex and sample prep company Pierce Protein Research, for instance; or Bruker's buy of nano-LC firm Michrom Biosciences or AB Sciex's purchase of LC firm Eksigent.
For smaller companies, however, such acquisitions aren't an option. Given this, collaborations like PIN potentially provide a way to meet growing demand for integrated proteomics workflows.
"As much as possible people want a complete solution," Kuruc said. "In the proteomics field that has definitely been the trend."
At Pittcon 2011 in March (PM 03/18/2011), Eksigent general manager Don Arnold suggested to ProteoMonitor that this trend is accelerating as proteomics moves into more applied applications, noting that " we've seen proteomics move from the discovery phase. Now how are we going to use the [discovered biomarkers]?"
Vendors "aren't necessarily looking for customers to buy a bit and buy a bit and put it all together. They're looking more to be a one-stop shop," he said. "We're going to more complicated workflows. We want to have one point for sales, service, and support. You want to run lots of samples, you want to make it as easy as possible."
Kuruc echoed these comments, observing that given its participants, the network could "appeal to big pharma and companies that are in the early drug discovery and drug repositioning areas."
He also noted that, while the workflows offered by the large instrument vendors typically revolve around their mass spec machines, there's currently less being provided in the way of complete solutions for non-mass spec-based approaches – a gap, he said, that PIN aims to fill.
"Most of the proteomic field today is centered around mass-spec based expression and identification technologies, but there are a lot of other technologies out there that feed into the overall proteomics field," he said, citing approaches like 2D DIGE and protein interaction studies. "The big companies are basically selling mass spec workflows, and part of this network is to make people aware and make the rest of the industry aware that there are other proteomics technologies out there."
Ultimately, Kuruc said, the hope is to develop PIN into a resource where "when people have a proteomics project they'll just think of the network and let the network figure out how to best approach the project."
For now, though, it remains considerably less formal, consisting essentially of good-faith agreements between the participating companies to promote the network and suggest one another to customers who may be interested in their services. No sort of finder fees or other financial incentives to collaborate are involved, Kuruc said, and the organization is open to adding additional members.
"What we're trying to do is just keep everybody in the loop," he said. "In one case, we had a project come across my desk from someone else [in the network] who's trying to generate a project and they thought our technology might be of some use. It hasn't come to fruition yet, but this is the sort of thing we're hoping will result."
"The real benefit isn't so much what you do today but what may come down the pipe two weeks, two months from now," Webb said. "I may run into a customer where I'm trying to sell them our product and at the same time they say they'd like to do some [proteomic] profiling. The benefit is I can say, 'I've got a colleague who does exactly that. Let me put you in touch with them.' It doesn't generate any sales for me, but it helps the customer, and who knows where it will lead."
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