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Thermo and Amersham Hope to Offer Complete Solution for Proteomics

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Thermo Electron and Amersham Biosciences have decided the proteomics game is best played as a doubles team: Earlier this month, the equipment companies penned an agreement to co-market their mass spectrometers and possibly co-develop other products later on.

“We thought that working together, we would be able to provide a more comprehensive set of solutions for our customers,” said Marc Casper, president of Thermo’s Life and Laboratory Sciences sector. The first step will be a modest one: The companies will co-market Thermo Finnigan’s ion traps, including its ProteomeX 2D-LC-MS system, and Amersham’s Ettan MALDI-ToF Pro, and pay each other commissions for each instrument sold. Thermo does not offer a MALDI-TOF mass spec at present, which is the only type of mass spec instrument currently sold by Amersham Biosciences. Both companies will make joint sales presentations and share their sales leads, according to Casper.

This arrangement will bring the companies closer to being a one-stop-shop in mass spectrometry for proteomics. “I think it creates a very competitive product lineup compared to Waters, Agilent, and Sciex, the three market leaders,” said Paul Knight, a senior analyst in life science research for Thomas Weisel Partners who covers Thermo Electron.

While neither company was willing to reveal how much they hope the alliance will affect their bottom line, both said that they expect it to increase their growth and market share.

For Amersham, that is a major concern. Its discovery systems business unit, which includes proteomics products, brings in $600 million in annual revenues, but is not profitable yet, according to Andrew Carr, Amersham Biosciences’ president, who recently talked to Genome Technology, ProteoMonitor’s sister publication.

Thermo Finnigan, the only Thermo Electron business unit involved in the collaboration, contributes about $350-400 million, or about a third of the Life and Laboratory Sciences sector revenues, per year.

What brought the two companies together initially is a number of mass spec-related patents held by Analytica Branford and controlled by Amersham, according to Lars-Eric Utterman, vice president for proteomics at Amersham Biosciences. A number of mass spec vendors, he said, expressed an interest in these patents about six months ago. Instead of licensing the patents to Thermo, the two companies decided to collaborate, both for their “very strong complementary fit,” and because “we are sharing the same kinds of values when it comes, for instance, to good technical support,” said Utterman. Originally, he said, Amersham had planned to develop an MS/MS instrument in-house, but “we thought it would be smarter if we could find a partner already having a good program.”

For Amersham, this is not the only proteomics partnership. Earlier this year, the company announced a strategic alliance with Geneva Bioinformatics to market GeneBio’s proteomics bioinformatics courses and develop new software products.

But many believe it was not mass spectrometry that attracted Thermo Electron to the deal.

Thermo Finnigan, well known for its market-dominating ion trap mass specs, but not for proteomics reagents, might be more interested in gaining access to Amersham’s other proteomics offerings than to its MALDI mass spec, which some regard as not being top of its class. “They don’t care about the MALDI-TOF from Amersham, that’s not going to do anything for them,” said an analyst for Thermo Electron who requested to remain anonymous. “The reason they are in the deal is for access to the chemistries.”

Casper agreed that Amersham’s proteomics sample preparation expertise was “something that we are excited to become associated with,” although these products are not part of the initial co-marketing agreement. According to Utterman, Thermo “realized that they need a partner that not only knows the proteomics market but has the possibility to offer the front end part, whether that is 2D electrophoresis or multi-dimensional chromatography. These are all areas where we have a strong emphasis.” In the future — depending on the success of their mass spec alliance — the two companies are planning to co-develop instruments, software, and reagents for proteomics research. To facilitate the collaboration, they have set up a steering committee with three senior executives from each company and a program manager for the venture, Caspar said. Each company is going to commit about 10-20 people to the alliance.

Thermo and Amersham are not the first instrument and reagent companies to decide partnership is the answer to a complete proteomics offering. PerkinElmer, which like Amersham Biosciences provides both proteomics reagents and equipment, co-developed a MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer with MDS Sciex, which it released two weeks ago. Similarly, Applied Biosystems and MDS Sciex worked together to develop ABI’s QSTAR. Other alliances of this type might well follow: “Life science technology is much faster, has much shorter life cycles now, and to maintain competitiveness in this market, you will have to do more joint venture work,” said Knight.

— JK

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