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LSBC Terminates Protein Chip Partnership with Biosite, Analysts Ask: Is ABI Losing Market Share to Waters?

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LSBC Terminates Protein chip Partnership with Biosite

Following unsuccessful attempts between Biosite and Xoma to settle their licensing and patent dispute, Large Scale Biology said last week that it had terminated its agreement with Biosite to jointly develop protein microarrays.

The development currently leaves LSBC without a partner to supply antibodies for its proposed array products, which the company had hoped to bring to market during the second half of 2002. Under the initial non-exclusive three-year agreement, signed in January of last year, Biosite had hoped to provide antibodies for between 2,000 and 5,000 proteins identified by LSBC using its automated 2D gel and mass spectrometry platform.

In a conference call last week, LSBC executives indicated that they had not yet settled on an alternative partner to supply the antibodies, but that the company was committed to bringing the products to market — with or without a partner — leaving open the question of whether LSBC may try to develop antibodies on its own.

LSBC’s revenues for the fourth quarter of 2001 were sharply down from the comparable period in 2000, primarily because of a research contract with Dow Chemical and Dow Agrosciences in the area of plant genomics expired last August. The company’s most recent fourth quarter revenues were $700,000, compared with $5.7 million during the fourth quarter of 2000.

In June of last year, LSBC hired a team of business development officers to bring in short-term revenue in the form of collaborations with big pharma, but since then has signed only three academic and non-profit contract research customers.

Analysts Ask: Is ABI Losing Market Share to Waters?

In conference calls to discuss fourth quarter 2001 earnings, both Waters’ subsidiary Micromass and Applied Biosystems named proteomics as a continuing source of revenue growth, particularly in sales of mass spectrometers.

In contrast to declining sales of DNA sequencers, ABI President Mike Hunkapillar singled out protein analysis products “as areas we would see pulling us along in terms of a growth perspective.” ABI executives did not disclose figures on ICAT reagent sales.

But in the face of Micromass’ 40 percent growth in orders for its Q-TOF instrument, compared to the fourth quarter of 2000, analysts pointedly questioned Applied Biosystems executives as to whether they were losing a share of the mass spectrometry market to its rival. Applera CEO Tony White admitted that while Waters “was probably the leader in Q-TOF-type instruments,” he would “not be surprised” if ABI was gaining ground on Micromass in the market for high-end triple quadrupole instruments.

“I would say we’re close to, or slightly ahead of [Waters] in total mass spectrometer sales,” White added.

During the Waters conference call, executives said that the company’s sales of instruments for applications in proteomics rose 35 percent, 50 percent, 33 percent, and 47 percent, respectively, for each of the last four quarters compared to the same quarter in 2000.

“Somebody might call that choppy, but other people might say just ‘Wow,’” said Waters CEO Douglas Berthiaume. “I prefer to think it’s been a damn solid straight growth business for at least two or three years now.”

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