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Reinforcing Recent Hints, ABI, Thermo Fisher Disclose Deals to Grow Proteomic Portfolios

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Reinforcing recent hints that they are looking to grow their proteomics technologies in 2007, Applied Biosystems this week announced a deal that would validate its biomarker technologies while Thermo Fisher Scientific separately made an acquisition strengthening its proteomic portfolio.
 
ABI said it will work with BG Medicine to discover and validate biomarkers, formalizing a relationship the two firms have had for several years.
 
Meanwhile, Thermo Fisher announced it had purchased the SwissAnalytic Group, made up of two companies, one a supplier of mass spectrometers and other instruments, the other a manufacturer of liquid chromatography pumps and software.
 
The deal bolsters Thermo Fisher’s proteomics portfolio and enhances its ability to do business with large drug companies based in Switzerland, a Thermo Fisher official said.
 
Officials from both ABI and Thermo Fisher declined to disclose financial details of their agreements.
 
While not considered major deals, they reinforced hints the firms made a week ago at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference to grow their proteomics businesses this year [See PM 1/11/07].
 
At the conference, ABI interim CEO Tony White told analysts that one focus of the company is to continue discovering, validating, and commercializing proteomic biomarkers. Such biomarkers, he added, are expected to be key revenue drivers for ABI during the next three years.
 
Separately, Marijn Dekkers, president and CEO of Thermo Fisher, said that the company remains interested in acquiring more companies in 2007 and will be looking vigorously at expanding its reach in the liquid chromatography market.
 
ABI Tools and Industrial Settings
 
Terms of ABI’s two-year deal with BGM call for the company to integrate ABI’s mass spectrometers and iTRAQ reagents into BGM’s biomarker research and validation work. While privately owned BGM, based in Waltham, Mass., has been using ABI instruments and consumables for a number of years to conduct its research, this week’s announced collaboration marks the first formal agreement between the two companies, said Stephen Martin, executive vice president and chief technology officer at BGM. Before BGM, Martin was at ABI until 2004 as senior director of the Discovery Proteomics and Small Molecule Research Center.
 
“From a BGM standpoint, this collaboration is really providing us some foundation tools in instrumentation, and chemistry, and software to enable us to better discover and validate biomarkers,” he said.
 
For ABI, the deal is an opportunity to evaluate how its instruments fit into high-throughput platforms and receive customer input on its tool and instruments.
 
“What we’re excited about is our ability to really put our products [and] our technologies into practice in a very industrialized setting such as what BG Medicine brings to the table,” said Tony Hunt, senior director of pharmaceutical programs at ABI.
 
“BG has done a really tremendous job over the last few years taking biomarker discovery… from the one- to 10-sample size that many researchers run today to analyzing hundreds of samples,” he said. “Our goal is to take that feedback from BG Medicine and help to continue to drive the innovation at ABI,” Hunt said.
 
Further, it expands the relationship between the two companies beyond the proteomics platform to metabolomics and genomics, Hunt said.
 
“Clearly, biomarkers are very important for Applied Biosystems,” Hunt said. “We’ve made a tremendous investment in this space over the last five years.”
 
Elaborating on the deal, Hunt said that “the programs [BG has] up and running right now, the interactions and the agreements they have with large pharma, and the ability for them to implement the tools that we have today in an industrialized setting is important because it will help us understand the real needs of the pharma community and the real needs in biomarker research.”
 
The agreement does not include any transfer of intellectual property to ABI; any new biomarkers discovered as part of the collaboration will remain with BGM.
 
Over the past year, BGM has moved aggressively to forge biomarker partnerships with big tool vendors and drug makers. In August, for instance, the firm penned an R&D agreement with Philips Royal Electronics giving the Dutch consumer electronics and medical imaging giant preferential access to certain biomarker discovery and validation technologies. Philips also purchased a 6 percent stake in BGM as part of the deal [See PM 08/17/06].
 
According to Martin, both companies are still in the process of sifting through BGM’s technologies and biomarker portfolio.
 

“What we’re excited about is our ability to really put our products [and] our technologies into practice in a very industrialized setting such as what BG Medicine brings to the table.”

“There are many areas of biomarker research that we’re looking at, and we’re focused on. We just haven’t gotten far enough that we’re willing to announce those areas yet,” Martin said.
 
In addition, last March BGM and Mitsubishi Pharma said they planned to study the biochemical origins of muscle toxicity and associated biomarkers. Under the agreement, BGM will use Mitsubishi technologies to describe the molecular effects of selected lipid-lowering agents on skeletal muscle and to identify plasma biomarkers of these effects.
 
Since the summer, BGM has also been involved in a four-year, $30 million effort with Philips, drug makers AstraZeneca and Merck, and health insurer Humana to track about 6,000 patients at risk for heart disease to identify potential biomarkers for atherosclerosis.
 
Thermo’s Swiss Opening
 
For Thermo Fisher, acquiring SwissAnalytic may enable it to further develop relationships with large European drug companies, in particular those in Switzerland, said Juergen Srega, vice president of global products and scientific instruments for Thermo Fisher. Switzerland is home to some of the biggest drug makers in the world, including Roche, Novartis, and Serono.
 
SwissAnalytic, based in Basel, is made up of two companies: Spectronex, a supplier of mass spectrometry, chromatography, and surface science instruments in Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Switzerland; and Flux Instruments, which manufactures high performance liquid chromatography pumps and software. Together, Spectronex and Flux posted revenues of about $22 million last year.
 
Spectronex had been distributing Thermo Fisher’s mass spectrometers in the four countries in which it operates. According to Srega, Thermo Fisher bought the company to increase its presence and establish direct sales channels in those countries.
 
“The strategic intent of the acquisition is to take more countries direct instead of going through dealers like Spectronex, to have better control,” Srega said. “As you can imagine, Switzerland is a strategic interest with their large pharma companies headquartered [there]. To have direct relationships with Thermo Fisher, we have chosen to go direct in these countries.”
 
SwissAnalytic has about 50 employees, Srega said. No layoffs are expected, he added.
 
The purchase also follows a stated goal of CEO Dekkers to pursue M&A opportunities in the liquid chromatography space. At the JP Morgan conference, Dekkers said that in the LC segment, Thermo Fisher is peering up at Waters and Agilent Technologies, the market leaders. On his wish list for 2007 is to close the gap.
 
“I would like to be stronger in chromatography,” Dekkers said. “Were trying to with new technologies bolster our capability in chromatography but we don’t have the installed base that some of our competitors have in that area.”
 
Last year, Thermo Fisher introduced its Accela HPLC, and in December the company purchased Cohesive Technologies, which manufactures LC and sample-prep products.
 
Company officials said Flux instruments complement Thermo Fisher’s suite of LC products but characterized the purchase of it and Spectronex as tuck-ins rather than the kind that will move it significantly closer to its competitors.

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