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Instrument Vendors Focus on UPLC and Triple-Quad, Qual-Quan MS at JP Morgan Conference


By Adam Bonislawski

Executives from Agilent, Thermo Fisher, Waters, and Danaher presented this week at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, recapping their firms' 2010 performances and offering insight into their strategies moving forward.

Liquid chromatography proved a primary focus of the discussions, as several vendors looked back on a busy year for acquisitions and new product releases in that space. A number of mass spectrometry systems were also highlighted, with the market for triple quadrupole and qual-quan machines receiving particular attention.

Observing the accelerating conversion of HPLC platforms to UPLC platforms, Agilent President of Life Sciences Nick Roelofs noted that "liquid chromatography is about the largest business within Agilent as a single-product business" and represents a "tremendous growth opportunity" for the company.

Since the release of the 1290 Infinity LC in April 2009, Agilent's LC business has "ridden a wave of technological transformation," he said, as more and more labs have begun upgrading to the UPLC platform.

Roelofs also highlighted the new edition of Agilent's OpenLab chromatography data system software, which it released four weeks ago. With a network version of the package coming in February, he said he expects the product to provide the company an opportunity "to penetrate in a market where we are not the market leader."

Penetrating new markets was similarly a theme of Thermo Fisher's chromatography talk, which centered on its recently announced $2.1 billion purchase of LC firm Dionex (PM 12/17/2010).

While the company had "leadership positions in most of the technologies in scientific instruments," said CEO Marc Casper, "chromatography was a place where we didn't."

While Thermo Fisher added to its nano-LC portfolio with the April acquisition of proteomics workflow firm Proxeon, the Dionex buy will bolster its HPLC and UPLC offerings. The purchase also gives Thermo Fisher access to Dionex's Chromeleon chromatography data systems software, Casper noted, as well as an expanded presence in the fast-growing Asia Pacific market where Dionex currently generates more than 35 percent of its revenues compared to 17 percent for Thermo Fisher.

The company expects the acquisition to add between $0.13 and $0.15 to its earnings per share in the first 12 months after its close, Casper said. This week it announced the pre-merger waiting period mandated by the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 had ended and that it had extended its tender offer to acquire all of the outstanding shares of Dionex for $118.50 per share.

Danaher touched on its own LC acquisition, with CEO Lawrence Culp citing AB Sciex's February buy of LC company Eksigent Technologies as a bolt-on acquisition that "added some front-end capability in liquid chromatography primarily in the nano and microspace" (PM 2/19/2010).

Waters' CEO Douglas Berthiaume said that UPLC had been "the foundation for the last five or six years" of the company's business, and that with last February's introduction of its Acquity H-Class UPLC platform, which provides backwards compatibility with Waters' HPLC instruments, it was seeing rapid product penetration, particularly in large regulated markets like pharmaceutical QA-QC. He noted that in addition to increased instrument sales, the move to UPLC was driving an increase in consumable sales, as well, as "what was an open consumables marketplace becomes more of a captive consumables market."

Waters plans to introduce significant new UPLC products at this year's Pittcon and American Society of Mass Spectrometry meetings, Berthiaume said. He added that the company will also be launching new mass spectrometry products at ASMS.

In terms of mass spec, Berthiaume cited Waters' 2009 launch of its next-generation Synapt product line – aimed, he said, "at high-end proteomics and metabolomics studies" – as a "significant contributor" to the company's performance in 2010. With the release at ASMS 2010 of the Xevo G2 QTof the firm sought to further augment its position in high-end mass spec, Berthiaume said.

Danaher's Culp likewise touted AB Sciex's qual-quan offering, the TripleTOF 5600, as an important driver of the company's 2010 revenues. In an H1 earnings call in July, he said Danaher anticipated mid-single-digit revenue growth in its AB Sciex division in 2010, driven in part by sales of the new machine (PM 7/23/2010). This week he noted that core growth had reached "nearly double digits" and that sales of the 5600 had "exceeded expectations."

For all the hype surrounding the new qual-quan machines, however, triple-quadrupoles remain a primary proteomics workhouse and, as Agilent's Roelofs said, make up the largest portion of the LC-MS market. Since entering that market in 2007, he said, Agilent has claimed a market share "well into the double digits." He called the company's 6490 triple-quadrupole instrument, which it released in May, "the highest sensitivity triple-quadrupole on the market."

Berthiaume noted the importance of the triple-quadrupole market as well, observing, like Roelofs, that it was "the largest segment of the mass spectrometry marketplace." Waters has sought to make inroads into this market with its Xevo TQ-S triple quad machine, which it released in May at ASMS 2010. He said this week that the instrument "has been selling aggressively through the last part of 2010" and that the company's "early indications are that the TQ-S competes very effectively in the high-sensitivity piece of the triple quad marketplace."

As reported by ProteoMonitor sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News, Berthiaume also said that in 2011 and perhaps beyond, Waters will be focusing on more modest benchtop and single-quadrupole systems and other systems based on quadrupole technology, as opposed to Q-TOF technology, in contrast to the company's recent strategy of going after the highest-end mass spec markets (GWDN 1/11/11).

In line with that strategy, the company this week launched its new Xevo G2 Tof benchtop instrument, a lower-end version of the Xevo G2 QTof aimed primarily at biopharmaceutical development.

Officials from the industry's other key mass spec vendor, Bruker, also presented at the conference but did not provide any updates related to the company's proteomics business.

Have topics you'd like to see covered in ProteoMonitor? Contact the editor at abonislawski [at] genomeweb [.] com.