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Zymark Emerges as GeneProt s Next Equipment Supplier, as Well as Investor

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Continuing its trend of doing business with suppliers who make equity investments, GeneProt last week announced it had signed an agreement with Zymark to buy four of its automated protein digestion and spotting systems. In return, Zymark committed itself to making an undisclosed equity investment in North Brunswick, NJ-based GeneProt.

Two of the Staccato proteomics systems will head to GeneProt’s partially outfitted proteomics research facility in North Brunswick and the other two are off to Geneva, adding to the repertoire of instrumentation at the company’s 11 month-old European facility.

Hopkinton, Mass.-based Zymark will also gain non-exclusive access to portions of GeneProt’s data, assuming those data are not of value to GeneProt or its pharmaceutical partners, as well as the right of first refusal to commercialize instrument technology developed during the course of the companies’ collaboration. For its part, GeneProt will have six-months lead time to apply new instrument technology to its research before Zymark makes the instrumentation commercially available.

The companies did not disclose the value of Zymark’s equity investment, but Zymark said its Staccato instruments are priced at between $150,000 and $500,000, depending on the complexity of the automation.

For that price, the Staccato instrument can robotically wash away detergents and other contaminants from “plugs” excised from 2D gels, digest the proteins contained in the plugs, extract the peptides from the plugs using various solvents, and spot the peptides onto MALDI target plates, according to Zymark. The machines are capable of processing almost nine 96-well plates every hour, the company said.

Although GeneProt declined to comment specifically on why it chose to purchase Zymark’s instrumentation, Ed Alderman, director of pharmaceutical research at Zymark, said GeneProt was particularly impressed with the Staccato’s ability to transfer submicroliter volumes of sample, to deliver multiple reagents by non-contact dispensers, and its compatibility with both 96- and 384-well microplates. “GeneProt has chosen this system for the robustness of the robotics,” added Mark Roskey, Zymark’s executive vice president for worldwide marketing.

In January, GeneProt struck a deal with Micromass for mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography instrumentation valued at $20 million, in exchange for a $10 million investment. Similarly, in the fall of 2000, GeneProt arranged to buy 51 mass spectrometers from Bruker Daltonics, who made an undisclosed equity investment in the company. Compaq, GeneProt’s provider of computer hardware, also paid $10 million in October 2000 for a 2.2 percent stake in the company.

GeneProt CEO Cédric Loiret-Bernal said last month that the company had raised $145 million thus far from institutional investors, and was “on the verge” of completing another $40 million round of private investment.

— JSM

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