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Launch of FTMS Instruments Marks Varian’s Slow and Steady Entry Into Proteomics Space

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As part of the company’s gradual entry into the proteomics space from the applied markets, Varian has refreshed its portfolio of Fourier transform mass spectrometers, replacing instruments it inherited as part of an acquisition made a year ago.
 
The company is also considering acquisitions and internal development efforts to fill a product gap between its low- and high-end mass specs.
 
At the Pittsburgh Conference in late February, Varian launched its 900 Series FTMS, a suite of three instruments that replaces FTMSs that had been offered through IonSpec, a firm that Varian acquired in February 2006.
 
In the proteomics galaxy, Varian is a comparatively minor player, but with the launch of the FTMS instruments, and other introductions over the past 18 months, the company is slowly positioning itself to gain some traction in the market.
 
“The LC ion trap and the FT products are intended to start to position us into the metabolite and proteomic markets,” said Greg Wells, manager for Varian’s high-end instruments, including mass spectrometers. “We are slowly, incrementally moving into those markets. And of course, we’re doing it across the board from consumable products to our separation products to our MS products.”
 
‘Financial Potential in Proteomics’
 
Based in Palo Alto, Calif., Varian sells mass spectrometers, chromatographers, optical spectroscopy instruments, and dissolution testing equipment. It also offers various magnetic-resonance systems.
 
But to date, the vast majority of its business has been directed at the applied markets. In the mass-spec space, the emphasis has been on food and environmental testing and toxicology testing.
 
In recent interviews with ProteoMonitor, though, Varian officials said that the company sees financial potential in proteomics.
 
“I think metabolites and proteomics are areas that have strong academic funding as well as great industrial interest,” Wells said. “Obviously, proteins [as] target compounds … are of interest to the pharmaceuticals for pharmaceutical products.”
 
For now, the company is only dipping its toes into the proteomics pool. Wells acknowledged that while Varian has competitive offerings in the low and high ends of the mass spec market, it is has a hole in product offerings in between.
 
“We’re looking at both acquisitions and internal development to fill in those gaps in the middle of the market,” Wells said.
 
On the consumables side, Jirong Gu, product manager for Varian’s BioSolutions division, said the emphasis is now on developing products for top-down proteomics.
 
“When people talk about proteomics consumables, Varian definitely is not the first company to come to mind,” she said, “but we do have lots of competency in terms of developing materials for separations for LC/MS. With our strengths in medium SPE [and] formatting, we believe we can play a bigger role than currently.”
 
Proteomics Newbie
 
Varian’s first foray into proteomics was the launch of the 500 liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry system in October 2005, which put the company in direct competition with Thermo Fisher Scientific’s LTQ and Agilent Technologies’ and Bruker Daltonics’ ion trap LC/MS systems.
 
Last October, Varian also introduced the 320-MS instrument, which can be switched between an LC and gas chromatography format. The system is available as a triple-quadrupole or a single-quadrupole MS that can later be upgraded to a triple quad.
 
About a year ago, Varian moved into the FTMS space by spending at least $16 million to acquire IonSpec, a maker of FTMS instruments. The purchase agreement also includes a provision for additional payments if products based on the FTMS technology meet certain sales targets.
 
FTMS is not used as commonly in proteomics research as other MS technologies such as ion trap or Q-TOFs because of the skills needed to use the instruments and their cost: An FTMS can be 40 times as expensive as the lowest-end mass spec. But Wells said the purchase of IonSpec’s product line meshed with Varian’s portfolio.
 

“I think metabolites and proteomics are areas that have strong academic funding as well as great industrial interest.”

“We got into the FT business through the acquisition of IonSpec, who was one of the early pioneers in the area of FTMS,” Wells said. “And it’s a good complement to Varian’s other businesses.”
 
Shortly after the acquisition, Varian launched the world’s first 15-Tesla FTMS [See PM 03/16/06]
 
The 900 Series FTMS replaces the entire line of IonSpec FTMS devices, and now uses all Varian components such as turbo pumps and dry scroll pumps.
 
In the company’s press release announcing the launch of the 900 Series, it said the instruments can incorporate either traditional or "Zero Boil-off" Varian magnets, and are available in field strengths of 7, 9.4, 12, and 15 Tesla.
 
The series comprises three instruments: the 901-MS, a hybrid electrospray ionization instrument; the 902-MS, a MALDI instrument; and the 903-MS, a dual cart-instrument that allows both electrospray and MALDI ionization sources to share a single magnet.
 
The 900 Series sells for between $500,000 and $2 million, depending on the magnet strength, and will begin shipping during the summer, Wells said.
 
With the launch of the new FTMS instruments, Varian is focusing on developing consumables for top-down proteomics, though Gu declined to provide details about Varian’s consumables R&D efforts.
 
“Right now there’s a challenge for top-down proteomics, the whole protein separation” Gu said. “We believe we can provide products in that area. And we are working on it.”
 
Also augmenting Varian’s push into the proteomics consumables space is its purchase of Polymer Laboratories, part of its acquisition of PL International at the end of 2005.
 
Polymer developed and manufactured consumables such as columns and systems for high-throughput screening and process monitoring applied to polymeric materials.
 
“Coupled with Polymer Labs’ R&D competency on medium development, we believe we can provide something unique for top-down separations,” Gu said.

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