Agilent advances with acquisitions

Seeking to further its application development and market penetration, Agilent Technologies adds BIOCIUS Life Sciences and Lab901 to its fold

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SANTA CLARA, Calif.—With two years plus of a successful collaboration behind them, Agilent Technologies Inc. recently acquired BIOCIUS Life Sciences Inc., developer of the RapidFire high-throughput mass spectrometry drug-screening platform for the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical markets. Financial details were not disclosed.

Based in Wakefield, Mass., privately held BIOCIUS was formed in 2009 as a spinoff from BioTrove Inc., which Agilent was working with at the time. According to the company, 13 of the top 14 biopharmaceutical companies use products from BIOCIUS. The company employed about 25 people who have now joined Agilent.

The RapidFire 360 is designed for high-throughput screening of in-vitro ADME assays. Combining the accurate mass capabilities of Agilent's time-of-flight mass spectrometers and the sample processing speed of RapidFire technology, the instrument has virtually eliminated the method development bottleneck in drug discovery.

"The marketplace had already adopted RapidFire for drug discovery," says Gustavo Salem, vice president of Agilent's Biological Systems Division within the company's Life Sciences Group. "In 2010, the RapidFire 360 was introduced, which was a joint development effort. This allowed use of our time-of-flight mass spec analyzer, which in turn dramatically reduced throughput time. The market responded very positively to this co-development and, as a result, we started discussion of tighter strategies that led to the acquisition."

Salem notes that it was the vision of BIOCIUS' Can Özbal to replace fluorescence plate readers with mass spec. The additional time required for labeling chemistry, coupled with speed and sensitivity that are not as good as mass spec, were motivating issues. By optimizing the fluidic path, both faster speed of injection and reduced carryover were achieved. One specific example Salem cites is the microfluidic valving, which can require 200 milliseconds to move from mode to elute in many systems. RapidFire tunes this down to 10 milliseconds. These factors, along with the system's unattended operation, combine to make RapidFire 10 to 100 times faster than traditional screening methods, Salem states.

"BIOCIUS' unique RapidFire technology gives customers an unsurpassed ability to increase the effectiveness and reduce the cost of drug discovery and compound identification," Salem adds. "With this technology and the team that developed it now part of Agilent, we can expand our reach in the pharmaceutical and clinical mass spec markets."

A plan is in place to rebrand the BIOCIUS products with the Agilent brand.

"We do plan on maintaining the RapidFire product name and trademark," Salem says.
"RapidFire instrumentation and research services are highly valued by leading drug discovery researchers around the globe," says Jeffrey Leathe, former chairman and CEO of BIOCIUS. "As we continued to leverage those relationships and our experience into current and new markets, the natural evolution of the company was to partner with a world-class organization to accelerate our application development and further market penetration. Agilent's breadth of global resources and market strategy are the best fit for BIOCIUS to drive RapidFire into new markets going forward."

In other activity, Agilent has also acquired Lab901, a leading electrophoresis equipment and consumables company based in Edinburgh, U.K. The company's automated electrophoresis products are used for DNA, RNA and protein analysis. Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.

"With the addition of Lab901's outstanding technology and talented team, Agilent can now address customer needs across the entire span of electrophoresis life science applications, from semi-automated to 96-well-plate compatible workflows," says Patrick Kaltenbach, vice president of Agilent's Liquid Phase Separations business. "Alongside our existing BioAnalyzer platform and the Agilent G7100 Electrophoresis System, the Lab901 ScreenTape system provides a very versatile, automated and scalable throughput gel electrophoresis solution for a wide range of applications."

"We have always recognized the strong synergy between our two companies," says Joel Fearnley, Lab901's former CEO, who will join Agilent along with the rest of his employees. "Lab901's innovative technology, products and experienced team are a perfect fit with Agilent's culture. We look forward to offering our global customers an unrivalled portfolio of advanced products to address their electrophoresis needs."

Agilent shares hit new 52-week high

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Following news of its recent acquisitions, Agilent Technologies Inc. last month hit a new 52-week high as it traded at $45.49, compared with its previous 52-week high of $45.41.

According to, Agilent has a market cap of $14.4 billion, and as of March 4, shares were up 3.4 percent year to date.

Equities research analysts at Stifel Nicolaus reiterates a "Buy" rating for shares of Agilent in a recent research note.

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