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PerkinElmer Steps up to Proteomics Plate: Will Imaging Analysis Be Enough?

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Just over two years ago, the former government contractor EG&G acquired PerkinElmer’s analytical instruments business, and with it the rights to PerkinElmer’s name. The new identity, company officials said at the time, symbolized the company’s potential as a player in the life sciences.

Now, marking the extent of its transformation, the new PerkinElmer wants to extend its reach into proteomics.

In May, PerkinElmer said that it was partnering with MDS Sciex to manufacture and distribute a MALDI-TOF, and more recently the company told ProteoMonitor that it plans to sell labeling technologies and advanced imaging and bioinformatics systems specifically for applications in proteomics. PerkinElmer’s acquisition of Packard Biosciences, which closed last week, could also provide PerkinElmer with the expertise to move into protein microarrays, the company said.

“PerkinElmer life sciences is not that well-known in proteomics, but we’re actually doing a great deal and bringing a lot of new products to market at this time,” said Ian Taylor, the group product manager for proteomics at PerkinElmer, headquartered in Boston. “My mission is to position PerkinElmer as a serious player in proteomics.”

The company’s push into proteomics may not be easy, given the strong and diverse product lines of industry stalwarts Amersham Biosciences and Bio-Rad, but PerkinElmer may have market forces on its side, said Jerry Moss, vice president for biomics at PerkinElmer. According to the consultancy Frost & Sullivan, the proteomics markets should grow rapidly — from 30 to 40 percent a year — to almost $6 billion in 2006 from $963 million in 2000.

The company’s current activities in proteomics revolve primarily around its relationship with Genomic Solutions, whose 2D gel electrophoresis products PerkinElmer distributes outside the US and Japan, and imaging equipment and software that PerkinElmer has developed on its own or through other partners.

Genomic Solutions’ Investigator system, originally developed at Millipore, consists of instruments and reagents for using 2D gels to separate proteins, pick spots, digest the proteins, and prepare them for mass spectrometry analysis.

Although the technology is standard in many proteomics laboratories in the US and Europe, PerkinElmer’s share of the sales does not account for a significant fraction of the company’s overall $850 million in life science revenue, according to Paul Knight, an analyst at Thomas Weisel in New York.

More significantly, PerkinElmer sees its strengths in proteomics in the areas of 2D gel imaging and analysis. The company’s ProXPRESS CCD (charge-coupled device) imager can detect both visible and fluorescent wavelengths, and has applications in differential protein expression analysis. “We plan to launch some of our own chemistries in the early part of next year to enable people to do this differential protein expression using multiple dye labels within the same gel,” said Taylor. “It enables you to have greater intra-gel consistency and higher throughput because you can study two samples in the same gel.”

To complement its CCD imager, PerkinElmer announced in July that it would integrate a software package for analyzing 2D gel spots into its ProXPRESS product. The software, manufactured by Nonlinear Dynamics, is also sold as part of Amersham Biosciences’ proteomics offerings.

PerkinElmer’s acquisition of Packard Biosciences may open another potential market in proteomics in protein microarray technology, said Moss. In September, Packard launched its HydroGel three dimensional polyacrylamide substrate for immobilizing proteins. “[Protein microarrays are] an area that we recognize as a future opportunity, an area that we’re very interested in, and an area that we are looking at very closely,” Moss said.

Ultimately, however, PerkinElmer would like to sell customers a complete proteomics package, including capabilities in mass spectrometry, according to Taylor. In May, the company announced that it had partnered with MDS Sciex to develop a MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer to accompany its other proteomics offerings, a product Taylor said would be available to the market by the end of 2002.

“I think the ability and the need to provide the full package is important for companies like ours and that is driven as a package from our mass spec end as well,” said Taylor. “At this point we’re in bed with one of the best mass spec companies and we’re going to be a very strong player by working with them.”

PerkinElmer’s primary competitors in supplying proteomics platforms, such as Bio-Rad and Amersham, aren’t so sure that PerkinElmer has the clout to convince the market that it has a comprehensive package. Bio-Rad and Amersham have significant sales forces in the US, and Perkin Elmer’s partner in 2D gel analysis, Genomic Solutions, has yet to make a profit, said David Walker, a product manager for proteomics at Bio-Rad.

Furthermore, some industry watchers see PerkinElmer’s true strengths as lying in the area of drug development, downstream from large-scale protein analysis. “They have robotics and liquid handling systems with their ownership of Packard,” said Knight, the Thomas Weisel analyst, “but it seems to me they’re much better positioned in drug discovery.”

To Taylor and Moss, however, downstream protein analysis is a strong point for PerkinElmer that shouldn’t be excluded from the field of proteomics. Moss refers to experiments involving live cell imaging as functional proteomics.

“At the end of the day isolating the protein, knowing its structure, and knowing [peptide sequence] is all well and good, but until you know what it’s doing actually in a living organism you don’t have the entire story.”

— JSM

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