Waters this week said it will integrate its Acquity Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography system with mass spectrometers made by Thermo Electron and Bruker Daltonics in an ongoing effort to make the system compatible with non-Waters mass specs.
The deals, announced three days apart this week, are welcome news for scientists who have a Thermo or Bruker mass spec and a UPLC system made by Waters, which is currently the top-selling liquid chromatography vendor. As part of the deal, the firms will soon release a software application that allows the instruments to be easily integrated.
As for how the Thermo alliance might help researchers, "customers are pretty much on their own with regard to successfully setting up a Thermo instrument with a Waters [UPLC] system," Waters spokesman Brian Murphy said. "With the new driver, you'll be able to go into the Thermo mass spec software, and you'll be presented on the console with things you're not seeing today. One of the selections might be … Acquity. Then [the software] will step you through what you need to know in order to complete the connection."
The driver will be made available free of charge to anybody who purchases an Acquity or Nano-Acquity UPLC system from Waters, said Ken Miller, a proteomics product marketing manager at Thermo. It will also be given, again for free, to customers who request it because they currently have a Thermo mass spec and a Waters UPLC system.
Miller said the driver is expected to be released some time this year. At first, it will be available as a stand-alone software. Later, it will be incorporated into Thermo's Xcalibur instrument control software, which bundles all the drivers for mass spec-related third-party instruments.
Waters "feel[s] strongly that this is something that we needed to do with these partners because the demand is there. … It actually opens the door, if you will, for Waters in accounts where we don't do a lot of mass spec business."
As for the Bruker alliance, spokesman Michael Willett declined to give details about its driver to adapt the Waters UPLC system to Bruker mass specs.
"We don't have all the information on that yet," he said. "We expect to have much more detailed information at next week's PITTCON conference," in Orlando, Fla.
In addition to integrating UPLC with mass specs, the Bruker-Waters collaboration will also help integrate Bruker's nuclear magnetic resonance products with the Acquity system, Waters said.
Thermo mass specs to be integrated with the Acquity include the Finnigan TSQ Quantum, LTQ Linear Ion Trap, LTQ FT Hybrid Linear Trap/Fourier Transform ICR, and the LTQ Orbitrap hybrid mass spectrometer.
"It sounds like a really good collaborative effort," said Keith Solomon, an assistant professor in Orthopedic Surgery at Children's Hospital Boston, who recently helped purchase $2.6 million worth of Thermo instruments for his institution's new Proteomics Center (see ProteoMonitor 3/2/2006). "Waters is a fantastic company at chromatography, and to be able to combine their chromatography with Thermo's mass spec is a fantastic idea."
Solomon added that he would "absolutely" consider purchasing a UPLC system from Waters, especially now that the two systems will be easily compatible.
Thermo already has drivers for LC systems from several other vendors, said Miller, including Agilent's 1100 LC system, GE Healthcare's MDLC system, and Dionex's LC system.
Bruker also has drivers for LC systems from other vendors, including Agilent and Dionex, said Bruker's Willett.
"We're pleased to work with HPLCs from a number of different vendors," said Willett.
The Waters-Thermo and Waters-Bruker alliances are not OEM agreements, however, and customers who purchase mass specs from Thermo or Bruker with a Waters UPLC will be working with two companies: Waters and the individual mass-spec vendor, Murphy said.
"In this case, both partners [Thermo or Bruker] will have to share information, and the customer will be working with both Thermo [or Bruker] and Waters," Murphy added.
When asked what the collaborations mean for Waters' own mass specs, Murphy said that the company remains "100 percent committed" to the mass-spec market.
"We feel strongly that this is something that we needed to do with these partners because the demand is there, and it's really about meeting the needs of customers," said Murphy. "We actually think it's great for Waters because it means that we get a chance to supply UPLC equipment to customers and companies that we might not otherwise be working with now.
"It actually opens the door, if you will, for Waters in accounts where we don't do a lot of mass spec business," he said.
Murphy added that Waters will be releasing a new mass detector and a new version of its LCT Premier time-of-flight bench-top mass spectrometer at PITTCON .
Lester Taylor, director of global product marketing in Thermo's life sciences division, said that the collaboration with Waters is part of Thermo's strategy to enable users to use the front-end system that they prefer.
"I think it enables customers who have an Acquity to interface more effectively to LTQ instruments," he said. "It's part of our philosophy to enable users to have the front end they prefer to use with our mass specs."
Taylor added that he does not see the collaboration interfering with sales of Thermo's own LC systems.
"I don't see that that's an issue," he said.
According to Murphy, Thermo and Waters began forming their collaboration in October 2005.
Tien-Shun Lee ([email protected])
Sizing Up the Liquid Chromatography Market
Waters, Thermo, Agilent, PerkinElmer, and Applied Biosystems compete in the estimated $2-billion liquid chromatography market, which includes pharmaceutical and protein research, forensics, and food safety. Industry participants have estimated the LC/MS market at roughly $1.3 billion.
In the year and a half since Waters launched the Acquity system, the company has enjoyed the first-mover advantage in offering a high-speed LC system. But Agilent launched its 1200 Series LC system and its 6000 Series LC/MS platforms earlier this year hoping to obtain its publicly stated goal of surpassing Waters as the top LC vendor on the market.
Agilent believes that the flexibility and high resolution of the 1200 Series LC system, the successor to its 11-year-old 1100 Series liquid chromatography instrument, will enable it to take market share from Waters and other LC vendors that have yet to launch a high-speed instrument.
Agilent has not disclosed pricing for the system, but Christina Maehr, launch coordinator for the 1200 Series LC, said it was comparable in price to the predecessor 1100 system. There is a premium, however, for the rapid resolution module that customers can choose as part of the system, she noted.
The 6000 Series LC/MS platform includes five classes of instruments, according to Agilent, including the firm's first triple quadrupole and Q-TOF mass spectrometers, and improved versions of its single quad, ion trap, and time-of-flight mass spectrometers.
ABI and its mass-spec partner MDS Sciex last month launched their QSTAR Elite LC/MS/MS system, a Q-TOF mass spectrometer for protein and small molecule biomarker discovery. The partners also sell earlier-generation LC/MS systems.
PerkinElmer does not have an LC/MS offering, though it does sell a line of liquid chromatographs. The firm's proteomics and biomarker discovery business is centered primarily on its BioXpression biomarker platform, which incorporates a MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer and was launched last June.
Ed Winnick ([email protected])