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Going with the flow
October 2011
by David Hutton  |  Email the author


SEATTLE—In an effort to strengthen its bioscience business, EMD Millipore, the life science division of Merck KGaA of Germany, has acquired Amnis Corp., a cell-imaging instrumentation maker based here.  
Financial terms of the deal have not been released. The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and closing is expected to take place in the fourth quarter. According to Steffen Grimminger, director of Communication Strategy & Governance for EMD Millipore, the acquisition will help EMD Millipore to execute upon its strategy to build a powerful systems biology platform.
"Currently, there are no solutions available that enable customers to directly link the outputs of flow and image analysis," he says. "Specifically, confirming flow data with image analysis, linking multi-parameter flow data with protein localization via imaging and connecting cell characteristics such as morphology to protein expression. All of these are significant unmet needs that we have validated through extensive market analysis and voice of customer through our rigorous strategic planning process."  
Jonathan DiVincenzo, head of the Bioscience business unit within EMD Millipore, says the acquisition of Amnis significantly contributes to the company's strategy to be a leader in cellular analysis and systems biology.  
"Amnis' technology will put EMD Millipore at the forefront of cell analysis by providing us access to breakthrough, combined imaging flow cytometry, addressing several unmet needs in the field of cell analysis and systems biology," he says. "Today, there are no comparable alternatives that enable our customers to combine flow cytometry and image analysis in one integrated solution. With this acquisition, EMD Millipore becomes the only provider of this technology."  
This is the second acquisition for EMD Millipore this year. In March, Merck acquired the microbiology business of Biotest AG of Germany and added it to the operations of EMD Millipore, to boost its business in hygiene monitoring and ready-to-use media products for contamination detection.  
Grimminger says both EMD Millipore and its parent company Merck KGaA have a long-term view when considering acquisitions.
"It is kind of hard to measure success when a technology that was created by a company of 40 people gets integrated into an organization with 40,000 employees," he says. "Having said that, it will be truly rewarding for EMD Millipore to be the only provider of the flow and image analysis technology going forward."  
Amnis has had an interesting path to date. The company spun out of the University of Washington in 1998. It makes an imaging device that provides detailed images of large numbers of cells, potentially enabling researchers to detect trace amounts of cancer in a blood sample, or determine whether a drug will hit a particular protein target. The company's customers include academic researchers and big drugmakers.  
According to David Basiji, CEO of Amnis, the main reason behind his company's decision to sell was to accelerate the growth of its technology.  
"We're comfortably profitable, and our business has grown at an 80 percent compounded annual rate since 2005," he says, "but with the addition of the lower price/higher volume FlowSight product, plus three clinical applications in development, we now have far more to do than we can fund organically."  
Amnis generated sales of $14 million in 2010.  
Basiji also points out that Amnis' technology is highly complementary to EMD Millipore's existing flow cytometry-related products and capabilities, both from an instrumentation and application perspective.
"It's too early to talk about specific strategic moves, but I think we have all the ingredients in place to become a major player in all aspects of cellular analysis and systems biology," he says. "This will help us to drive the penetration of Amnis' technology, not only with our combined customer base, but also in adjacent fields and markets of cell analysis where we see a huge potential. We expect Millipore will both accelerate our existing projects as well as allow us to broaden into areas we've wanted to go, but haven't been able to pursue due to resource constraints."  
Amnis, which currently has 40 employees, will remain in Seattle with its existing staff and management, according to Basiji.
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