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Two Weeks After Launch as Standalone Firm, AB Sciex Adds Eksigent's LC Business to Portfolio

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This story has been updated to include the flow rate on Waters' Acquity UPLC.

By Bernadette Toner

Fresh off the heels of its launch as a new company under the Danaher umbrella, AB Sciex this week announced that it has acquired the liquid chromatography business of Eksigent Technologies, which specializes in microfluidic HPLC systems, for an undisclosed sum.

The deal is in line with comments that AB Sciex officials made two weeks ago in a conference call to discuss the launch of the new firm that indicated they'd be looking to acquire technologies that are complementary to legacy mass spec products from the former Applied Biosystems/MDS joint venture [see PM 02-05-10].

AB Sciex is clearly not wasting any time on executing on that plan, and company officials this week touted the acquisition as an example of the newfound freedom and flexibility the firm has now as an integrated entity.

The deal grew out of an original equipment manufacturer agreement between the AB Sciex JV and Eksigent that began in 2006. "We've done an increasing amount of collaborative work together from a scientific perspective, and [the acquisition] really made a lot of sense for what we can offer our customers today, but also for the future of the business as well," Laura Lauman, one of two presidents of AB Sciex, told ProteoMonitor this week.

Lauman, who was president of Life Technologies' mass spec division, shares responsibility for AB Sciex with Andy Boorn, who was previously president of MDS Analytical Technologies.

An acquisition of Eksigent was "something that we always considered," Lauman said, "but certainly with the two halves of the joint venture coming together as AB Sciex, it really allowed us to execute on what was a longstanding partnership."

She added that the deal is in line with the "spirit" of the company's launch as a combined firm under Danaher, which was "that it would allow for future runways in terms of acquisitions, et cetera."

Eksigent's specialty is low-flow LC technology for a range of life science applications. The company also maintains a medical devices business that will continue to operate following the sale of the LC business. Around 50 employees in Eksigent’s research and development, manufacturing, and sales teams will continue to operate at the company's Dublin, Calif., headquarters.

The acquisition gives AB Sciex a number of LC systems, including the NanoLC-Ultra System for proteomics, the cHiPLC-nanoflex System for protein peptide separations, and the ExpressHT-Ultra HPLC System for LC/MS studies of pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism.

Eksigent's systems are based on its Microfluidic Flow Control technology, which combines nano- and micro-scale chromatography with a microprocessor that controls the flow rate via air pressure. Ekisgent claims that the technology enables precise control of flow rate, high reproducibility, and improved separation speed compared to other nanoscale chromatography systems.

Lauman said that AB Sciex expects the Eksigent systems to be of particular interest to proteomics customers. As an example, she noted that AB Sciex has found that integrating the cHiPLC-nanoflex system with its QTRAP 5500 mass spec can lead to a twofold increase in throughput in separation for peptide quantification experiments because there are two columns on the chip that enable LC multiplexing.

"The nanoflow technologies allow for working with very small samples, so it allows for very high sensitivity," Lauman said. "When you couple that with the 5500, it allows for very rapid scanning, high sensitivity, and it's an integrated system."

Going forward, Lauman said that the AB Sciex and Eksigent R&D teams will be "focused on applications, focused on integrating the system, and [looking at how we] build that for the future."

'Open LC'

Lauman said that the acquisition of the Eksigent LC business will not impact AB Sciex's relationship with existing LC partners.

"LC is a big market," she said. "Certainly this acquisition allows us to have the leadership position in the nanotechnology area, but there's a wide range of flow rate ranges in LC, and as a result of that, different LC system configurations. So we'll remain doing what I've always called 'open LC,' where we'll partner with a wide range of LC manufacturers for the other flow rate ranges."

One trend in the LC market has been the move toward UHPLC systems. Waters has been marketing its Acquity UPLC since 2004, and Agilent launched its own version of the technology, the 1290 UHPLC, last spring. Both firms have reported strong demand for the systems.

"Certainly in the higher-flow-rate regimes, UHPLC's been widely adopted and is available from all of the partners that we collaborate with," Boorn said. "We've been right there at the beginning of the UHPLC adoption cycle with all of our suppliers and all of our systems routinely work with that."

Boorn added that in the lower flow market where Eksigent plays, UHPLC "is just beginning to be adopted."

Eksigent does offer a system that it markets as a UHPLC, the ExpressHT-Ultra, which launched in late 2008 and provides flow rates of up to 200 μL per minute and pressures of up to 10,000 psi. Nevertheless, Boorn noted that it is still "early days" for this particular segment of the UHPLC market.

By comparison, the Waters Acquity system has a flow rate of up to 2 mL/min and pressure up to 15,000 psi, a company spokesman said. Agilent's 1290 has a flow rate of up to 5 mL/min and pressure of up to 17,000 psi, according to company literature.

As for future acquisition plans — whether in LC or other technologies that may complement mass spec — AB Sciex officials were tight-lipped.

"Certainly we're looking at [acquisitions] and the combination of the company under one organization and under Danaher allows us to look at a wide range of possibilities," Lauman said. "But not something we can specifically comment on."

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