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Shimadzu Steps into Void, Brings Edman Sequencers to North America


This story has been updated from a previous version

Six months after researchers in the United States were left without a manufacturer and supplier of new Edman sequencers, Shimadzu will be bringing the instrument overseas, company officials told ProteoMonitor last week.

Shimadzu is making its Edman sequencers available in North America for the first time in its history, as part of an effort to expand its life-science footprint in that geography, more than 20 years after the company launched its first Edman sequencer in Japan.

The company has taken orders for the instrument, though officials declined to say how many and from whom, and expects to begin shipping them in the second quarter.

The platform is available in two models, the PPSQ-31A with a single reactor priced at $116,500, and the PPSQ-33A priced at $145,000.

While the two instruments are Shimadzu’s initial launches into North America, the company’s history in Edman sequencers date back to 1988 when it launched its first platform, the PPSQ-1, in Japan where the company is headquartered.

“This instrument is not a new development for Shimadzu,” said Jesse Hines, Life Science Account Manager for Shimadzu Scientific Instruments America. “It’s a mature product already, so the customers can expect to find a reliable, robust instrument that’s ready to go.”

The PPSQ-31A and 33A have been available in Japan where about 300 instruments have been sold, while about 15 have been sold each in the rest of Asia and in South America.

Shimadzu’s entry into the North American market comes as Edman sequencing technology appeared to be on the brink of extinction in the US and Canada. Last summer, Applied Biosystems discontinued its Procise line of Edman sequencers, citing newer technologies that were rendering Edman sequencing obsolete and a decline in sales of the instruments.

ABI's withdrawal left North America without a manufacturer of the instruments, and although company officials said they would continue service support for Procise users, the decision inflamed a small but loyal cabal of Edman enthusiasts [See PM 06/12/08].

Later in the summer, Thermo Fisher Scientific signaled that it was interested in possibly entering the market and filling in the void when it solicited input from researchers on what they need and want from protein-sequencing technologies [See PM 08/07/08]. Since then, however, company officials declined to comment on Shimadzu’s launch or provide an update on its plans.

Workhorse or Dead Horse?

Regardless, Edman sequencing is clearly on the wane. The technology was once the workhorse platform for protein chemists, but since its development about 60 years ago, newer mass-spec based methods for protein sequencing have overtaken Edman sequencing.

Still, those who use the platform say that in many instances, Edman sequencing remains the most reliable method for protein sequencing. For N-terminal sequencing and de novo sequencing, especially, the technology offers clear and precise data, and its ability to distinguish isobaric amino acids is unmatched by mass spec-based techniques.

Hines said that while there has been a move toward mass spectrometry for global protein analysis, once a target has been identified, its protein and/or peptide needs to be sequenced. New mass-spec methods such as electron transfer dissociation and electron capture dissociation have been developed to get additional fragmentation patterns in order to identify the sequences, but “the thing that Edman sequencing allows you to do that’s [been ignored] … is isolate that peptide and then run it on an Edman sequencer and actually piece by piece take that peptide apart and find the sequence of a peptide that you previously couldn’t find by mass spectrometry,” Hines said.

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Protein sequences can also be determined indirectly from the mRNA and DNA, but as with mass spec-based methods some guesswork is involved with such techniques, leaving open the possibility for human error.

Shimadzu officials acknowledged that the Edman sequencing market is “relatively small,” but said that demand for the instruments remains stable. According to Terry Adams, Life Science Business Manager for SSIA, even before ABI’s exit from the space, he “constantly” received calls from North American researchers who were interested in purchasing one of Shimadzu’s instruments.

“I know that there is a market there for it,” he said. “I know that people have called and asked for it. I would expect now with ABI pulling out, that’s only going to enhance moving this forward.”

Referring to a thread on the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities’ discussion group last spring in response to ABI’s withdrawal, Scott Kuzdzal, Life Science Business Leader, Biotech Products, for SSIA, said there is “a lot of concern that there won’t be products available for this robust technology” — further indication that there remains a place in protein research for such technology.

“There will always be a need for protein sequence determination,” he said. Edman sequencing is a “very robust and stable technology, and I think it’s a market that needs our products to be in.”

According to Shimadzu officials, the company had been making plans to sell Edman sequencers in North America for at least three years, but it took time to figure out a strategy to enter the space, and build up a sales and service and support infrastructure.

“It’s been on my whiteboard to bring this over since probably 2005, but the timing was never right, and with the addition of new hires and investments we made in people, we’ll do that,” now, Adams said.

According to officials at Shimadzu’s Japanese headquarters, patent issues had prevented the company from selling its PPSQ platform in the US for a number of years. Also, ABI’s “strong presence” in the US Edman sequencing market made it unfeasible for Shimadzu to bring the PPSQ technology overseas because it had a “very small product line in the past,” the company said in an e-mail to ProteoMonitor. Three times as many researchers use an ABI instrument than use a Shimadzu platform, according to Shimadzu.

ABI’s departure from the market “helped us, if anything, ramp up our service training and demonstration capabilities of this instrument,” Kuzdzal said.

The introduction of the instruments also is part of Shimadzu’s efforts to expand its life-science footprint in North America, an effort that kicked off a year ago [See PM 03/06/08].

As part of that strategy, the company will highlight at Pittcon next month its PPSQ instruments along with other instruments, including a new single-quadrupole LC-MS system.

Because Shimadzu has been developing, manufacturing, and selling Edman sequencers throughout Asia, making the systems available in North America did not require the expense and effort that would be necessary to bring an entirely new technology to market, company officials said.

“If I had to open up an R&D project to produce one and then produce the infrastructure to back it up, I would say no, we wouldn’t get into this business, probably,” Adams said. “But in our case, this is pretty easy for us.”