Following its April acquisition of proteomics firm Proxeon, Thermo Fisher has planned a number of new releases to further incorporate the acquired company's offerings into its mass-spectrometry platforms.
Specifically, Thermo Fisher plans to release new columns and mass spec ion source emitters sometime next year to more fully take advantage of the Easy-nLC technology it picked up in the Proxeon acquisition, according to Ole Vorm, formerly chief scientific officer at Proxeon and currently director of nano LC at Thermo Fisher.
The new products are part of Thermo Fisher's ongoing project to produce thoroughly integrated mass spec workflows for proteomics, Vorm told ProteoMonitor.
"We have a lot of know-how about columns and emitters, and we have new products coming out in that area in fairly short order. I think those are the key pieces that are missing when we talk about making the fully integrated platform," he said.
Ion source emitters in particular are "one of the hardest parts to be successful in the [mass-spec] workflow," Vorm added, noting that "you have a very expensive mass spectrometer that has become very easy to use, and you have an LC system that we've worked very hard to make easy to use, but coupling the two pieces together is difficult. That's what required to make people productive."
The company is also working on "fine-tuning" the integration of software elements between its mass spec instruments and the recently acquired nano-LC platform, Andrew Altman, Thermo Fisher vice president and general manager LC/LCMS, told ProteoMonitor.
This integration is primarily a matter of "device control," he said. "Being able to control the LC from the mass-spectrometer's data system computer and the communications back and forth."
When Thermo Fisher purchased Proxeon this spring for an undisclosed amount, Proxeon's Easy nLC nano-LC platform was seen as the primary draw (PM 04/16/2010). Mass-spec vendors have lately moved towards offering mass specs and LC platforms together as integrated systems rather than standalone instruments, and Thermo Fisher has in recent years been building its LC portfolio.
The company launched its Accela HPLC system in 2006 and made several subsequent purchases in the space, including acquisitions of Cohesive Technologies – a manufacturer of LC and sample-prep products – and SwissAnalytic Group, which included Flux Instruments, a maker of HPLC pumps and software. The acquisition of Proxeon's Easy nLC platform gave it an integrated LC-mass spec product for scientists who need high-performance chromatographic separation – proteomics researchers in particular.
Thermo Fisher's interest in Proxeon wasn't limited to nano-LC, however, Andreas Huhmer, the company's director of proteomics marketing, told ProteoMonitor. It was also attracted to the company's broader proteomics portfolio.
"Many people look at the [Easy nLC platform] as the main prize, but I think when you look at [Proxeon] their entire history is around innovating in proteomics," he said. "You can't just take any sample preparation tool [for proteomics work], you have to really develop the tools with proteomics research in mind, and that's what Proxeon provided."
Besides the LC, "then there is the technology and the know-how," Vorm said of the Proxeon acquisition. "There are a range of things that can come out of that technology base, so there will be much more in store."
Among the proteomics tools Thermo Fisher is currently working on are higher-powered LC column resins for proteomics work as well as systems for two-dimensional chromatography and online sample prep, Altman said.
"Clearly the marketplace is not stagnant – it's moving forward," he noted. "And as we push the envelope of what proteomic research and applications are, we need to have better tools, more ease of use, and more dynamic functionality with both the LC and the interfaces."
"We see that the proteomics market is growing nicely, and we see the potential evolution of research work in proteomics now becoming applicable to a broader market base," he said, suggesting that the movement of proteomics into the clinical setting could lead to a growth in the demand for proteomics research tools.
"As an example, one of our customers has set up an assay for a series of proteins [that] seem to have a link to potential development of Alzheimer's. So, the question is – can you develop a clinical assay? If that's successful then we could see these [proteomics workflows] being rolled out as a clinical tool for high-throughput labs like Quest and LabCorp where they would basically just run this test all night long," he said.
However, given the difficulty the biotech industry has had moving proteomics-based diagnostics into the clinical setting, in the near term researchers, as opposed to clinicians, will likely lead the growth in demand for proteomics tools, Huhmer said.
"I think before [growing clinical demand] you'll see a rather nice growth of mass spectrometry and proteomics tools in the biomarker research arena and in translational research – research directly tied to clinical programs," he said.
Huhmer added he also believes there will be "a substantial amount of proteomics work that's going to drive the pharma business. Clearly pharma is focusing on biopharmaceuticals, so these are all proteomics tools that will allow them to do protein characterization."
At the moment, the growth of the nano-LC market is "pretty much tied to the proteomics market," he said, and within that market "adoption of nano-LC is rather above the average for a traditional LC system."
According to Altman, Thermo Fisher has no good numbers on what portion of the nano-LC market it currently controls, however, pre-acquisition, Proxeon was estimated to hold a 10 percent market share.
The Easy-nLC system is currently available bundled with all Thermo Fisher mass spec instruments intended for proteomics work, Altman said, including the company's triple-quadrupole machines and its Velos line.