Agilent Technologies this week launched two new high-end mass spectrometers as part of its continuing push to become a top player in a space in which the company had limited visibility a year ago.
The new instruments, the 6220 TOF and the 6520 Q-TOF, are upgrades to instruments that hit the market last year. The 6220 instrument improves upon the capabilities of the 6210 TOF while the 6520 builds upon the 6510 Q-TOF technology [See PM 02/02/06 and 03/16/06].
Since the start of 2006, the company has aggressively pushed its way onto the high-end mass specs market, and in the process has shaken up the industry. Applied Biosystems remains the top sector performer, Thermo Fisher Scientific continues to push the boundaries of technology, and Waters is experiencing its own resurgence in an area where it had laid low for a while.
Meanwhile, Agilent is using its two new products as part of its strategy to move in on its competitors as it hopes to position itself as an A-lister in the mass-spec universe.
To be sure, though Agilent has had a presence in the mass-spec industry, until last year its offering consisted of single-quadrupole, time-of-flight, and ion trap instruments, considered to be on the lower end of the mass spec spectrum.
“If you think about Agilent’s position in mass spectrometry, especially the high-end mass specs, we haven’t had those before, so in terms of our visibility and our customers’ perception about having those kinds of products, we weren’t considered a mass spectrometry company,” Ken Imatani, Q-TOF LC/MS product manager for Agilent, told ProteoMonitor last week.
Agilent began to change that perception by introducing the 6410 triple-quadrupole mass spec and the 6510 Q-TOF in January 2006. Both instruments marked the company’s first foray into that space.
Throughout the rest of the year, it continued to place new instruments in the market. It launched the 6210 TOF in February, followed a month later with the 6340 ion trap [See PM 03/16/06].
In May at the American Society for Mass Spectrometry annual conference, Agilent rolled out four new single-quad models — the 6110, 6120, 6130, and 6140 — [See PM 06/01/06] and one year later introduced upgrades to the single quads [See PM 06/07/07].
During the past five years, Agilent has invested between $40 million and $50 million in hardware and software for its mass-spec lines, Imatani said. Moving into the higher-end market “required a much larger investment, a critical mass of people, both software people and hardware people to fill out this portfolio and engineer in these innovations.”
Amit Agarwal, a partner in Scientia Advisors, said that part of Agilent’s entry into the higher-end mass spec space is rooted in its effort to maintain its strength in the liquid chromatography space where it and Waters are seen as the market leaders.
Because mass-spec platforms are increasingly being marketed and sold with the liquid chromatographers coupled in the front end as part of a “uniform system,” offering higher-end mass specs is a way for Agilent to stay atop the liquid-chromatography space, Agarwal said.
Unlike Thermo and ABI, which has placed a premium on pushing the envelope technologically with its new mass spec launches, Agilent’s target market is not necessarily the early adopters who are interested in how the latest instruments can open up new avenues of research to pursue, but those who need a mass spec to do their jobs.
“When we were talking to a number of people coming to these trade shows and just doing our market research, the one thing we found in terms of trends out there is that the power of mass spectrometry was increasing, and more and more scientists were looking to mass spectrometry as a way to solve their problems,” Imatani said. “As the field grows, it isn’t because there are more mass spectrometrists in the world buying this stuff … [but] it’s because more scientists realize they need the power of mass spectrometry to solve their problems.”
Me Too or Not Me Too?
Analysts and Agilent’s competitors have taken note of the company’s impact in the field. In a research report issued in September, Jon Wood of Bank of America cited “tremendous momentum over the past four quarters” in Agilent’s Bio-Analytical Measurement division, which houses its mass-spec business.
For the 12 months ended July 31, 2007, revenues in the Bio-Analytical division have risen 16.4 percent, including the impact of the purchase of Stratagene completed in June. Agilent will release its fourth-quarter earnings results on Nov. 15.
“If you think about Agilent’s position in … the high-end mass spec [space], we haven’t had those before, so in terms of our visibility and our customers’ perception about having those kinds of products, we weren’t considered a mass spectrometry company.”
Citing the company’s formidable presence in gas chromatography and liquid chromatography, Wood said “both instrument solutions are a major component of the mass spectrometry workflow” and that Agilent should therefore “be able to rapidly increase its penetration in high-end mass spectrometry markets (to the detriment of major competitors Thermo Fisher Scientific, Applied Biosystems/MDS Sciex, and Waters) as it bundles new solutions” with those two instruments.
According to Wood, Agilent is the fourth-largest MS manufacturer with 10 percent of the market. By comparison, ABI has 25 percent, Thermo Fisher has 17 percent, and Waters has 13 percent.
Scientia’s Agarwal, however, said that Agilent has a lot of ground to make up because the shop has “been so far behind for so long. They’ve got a lot of convincing to do with people – that by buying an Agilent instrument, [researchers] are not actually in the situation [where] they’re downgrading their capability.”
He added that because ABI and Thermo Fisher’s instruments are seen as bleeding-edge technology, Agilent, for now at least, poses a limited threat to their mass-spec businesses.
Nonetheless, in an analyst meeting in January, Thermo Fisher CEO Marijn Dekkers said Agilent’s mass spec initiative has “changed the competitive dynamic” in the mass-spec business. However, he sniffed at Agilent’s line of instruments as “me-too” products.
In response, Agilent’s Imatani said last week that companies make such comments “when they’re losing market share.”
At an analyst conference in September, Bruker BioSciences CEO Frank Laukien acknowledged his company’s mass-spec sales had lost ground with the new competition. Agilent’s growing footprint in the industry, he said, “has certainly slowed down our presence.” [See PM 09/27/07] Bruker controls about 7 percent of the mass-spec market, according to Wood.
Agarwal said Waters may be the company that feels the greatest impact from Agilent’s foray into the space. Agilent “wants to be in the space where Waters is, which is perhaps not in the super high end of the market, but with machinery that’s very well validated that can be used pretty effectively in a lab,” he said.
The 6220 and 6520 being introduced this week both have added proprietary 32 gigabit/second data-acquisition electronics that the company claims improve mass resolution to 20,000. Both also incorporate proprietary dual-gain analog-to-digital time-of-flight electronics for a 10-fold improvement of dynamic range. According to Agilent, that now approaches five orders of magnitude.
At ASMS, Nick Roelofs, vice president and general manager for life science solutions at Agilent, told ProteoMonitor that the company had begun translating knowledge in the company’s Electronics Measurement division to applications for its mass-spec instruments.
This week Imatani said that Agilent will continue to leverage its Electronics business to push the technology of its instruments.
“You’re always pushing the sensitivity,” he said. “I’m sure that if the electronics get faster, we’ll find creative ways to make things go faster because the faster the things go on this, the faster you can sample data, the better your statistics, the better the quality.”
Of the 6520, which sells for about $470,000, the company said that improvements include attomole sensitivity; better than 2 parts per mole MS accuracy; better than 5 parts per mole MS/MS mass accuracy; data acquisition speed of greater than 10 MS/MS spectra per second; and broad mass range from m/z 25 to 20,000.
As with the 6210 instrument, the 6220 is meant to be a “walk-up” instrument that any scientist can use by following step-by-step directions outlined by Agilent’s Easy Access Software.
The 6220, which sells for about $250,000, now uses Agilent’s MassHunter Workstation software with advanced acquisition and qualitative and quantitative data-analysis capabilities. “These capabilities include unique data-mining functionality based on powerful molecular feature extraction and molecular formula generation algorithms, facilitating identification of compounds in complex mixtures,” Agilent said in a statement.