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Thermo Fisher Acquires Open Biosystems In Bid to Expand Position in RNAi Field

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Thermo Fisher Scientific this week announced that it has purchased private genomics research tool maker Open Biosystems for an undisclosed price in a bid to expand its position in the RNAi field.
 
“We’ve seen for quite a while now that Open Biosystems is a technology leader, particularly in the study of gene function,” David Eansor, president of life science research at Thermo Fisher Scientific, told RNAi News this week. “We also saw them as a great strategic fit with our product portfolio [since Open Biosystems will] fill some key technology gaps for us.”
 
For example, having acquired prominent siRNA reagent shop Dharmacon while it was still Fisher Scientific (see RNAi News, 2/13/2004), Thermo Fisher Scientific was “already quite strong in siRNA,” he noted. But the life sciences giant was lacking in the shRNA department, and Open Biosystems’ shRNA libraries, delivery systems, and related technologies fit the bill.
 
“When you put those together with what we had previously, we [have] far and away the strongest and highest-quality collection of tools in terms of studying gene function in the industry,” he said.
 
Notably, Eansor said Thermo Fisher Scientific also plans to keep intact Open Biosystems’ much-touted “open-source” culture, which gave rise to the company’s name.
 
On its website, Open Biosystems notes that its business model was based on a “collaborative spirit … inspired by the success of the open-source movement in software [that] has … radically empowered small organizations and individuals by giving them the tools only big companies could previously afford.
 
“We aim to speed the progress of research by letting people use our technology in a manner that’s substantially more flexible than that of other tools providers,” the company added.
 
Indeed, when Open Biosystems was sued by Sigma-Aldrich in mid-2006 for allegedly infringing two patents related to lentiviral technology (see RNAi News, 6/15/2006), Open Biosystems’ CTO Troy Moore told RNAi News that his company became a target for the bigger firm because its goal was to make RNAi technologies “available to everybody. Commercial groups are starting to take notice [of this], and I think that's challenging their way of thinking.”
 

“Whatever works we want to continue to do. If [Open Biosystems’ culture] has been successful working in the past, we don’t want to change that. … Hopefully, we can learn from that as well, and adapt that into the collective offering.”

According to Eansor, Thermo Fisher Scientific doesn’t plan to strip away Open Biosystems’ business model when the company is integrated into its analytical technologies segment.
 
“Whatever works we want to continue to do,” he said. “If it has been successful working in the past, we don’t want to change that culture. … Hopefully, we can learn from that as well, and adapt that into the collective offering.”
 
“We tried to maintain very high integrity, do what we said we were going to do, and deliver,” Moore added this week. “We’ll be able to continue doing that as part of the Thermo Fisher Scientific company.”
 
Eansor said that Open Biosystems’ roughly 70 employees will all be brought over to Thermo Fisher Scientific, but, like Dharmacon before it, the smaller company will now exist in name only.
 
“The master brand for us is Thermo Scientific,” he explained. “That will be front and center, as it is with all our acquisitions. We’re still going to try to leverage the strength and equity that is in the Open Biosystems brand [but] it will continue as a product line” under the Thermo Scientific brand name.
 
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Thermo Fisher Scientific said that Open Biosystems generated about $14 million in revenues last year.
 
RNAi M&A
 
In snapping up Open Biosystems, Thermo Fisher Scientific has continued an ongoing trend that has seen virtually all of the original RNAi reagent shops consumed by larger life science tools companies with far-reaching product portfolios.
 
Invitrogen got the ball rolling in 2003 when it acquired Sequitur in order to provide customers a "more complete RNAi solution," in the words of a company representative (see RNAi News, 11/7/2003).
  
The following year, Fisher Scientific purchased Dharmacon for $80 million in cash in a move designed to "expand [its] presence in the life sciences market" (see RNAi News, 2/13/2004).
 
Next on the block was Proligo, which chemical firm Degussa sold to Sigma-Aldrich in 2005 in a transaction that Sigma-Aldrich treasurer Kirk Richter told RNAi News would give his company "more capabilities in what's going on in functional genomics," namely in the gene-silencing arena (see RNAi News, 2/18/2005).
 
One year later, Applied Biosystems spent $273 million in cash to buy Ambion’s research products division, which included its line of RNAi products (see RNAi News, 1/5/2006). At the time, Peter Dansky, vice president and general manager of molecular biology consumables at ABI, told RNAi News that the transaction would help ABI provide “a more complete solution for customers, starting as early as we can in the experimental workflow and providing solutions … that help the customer get their entire experiment done.”

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