Agilent Technologies acquires BIOCIUS Life Sciences and Lab901

Agilent adds mass spec technology and electrophoresis products for DNA, RNA and protein research

Jeffrey Bouley
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SANTA CLARA, Calif.—In a sort of M&A bookending move, Agilent Technologies Inc. picked the very last day of February to announce its acquisition of Lab901 and then let everyone rest for the weekend before using the very first day of March to announce an even more noteworthy deal: the acquisition of BIOCIUS Life Sciences Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

BIOCIUS is the developer of the RapidFire high-throughput mass spectrometry drug-screening platform for the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical markets, and its drug-screening technology has, Agilent notes, "successfully screened millions of compounds, providing results 10 to 100 times faster than traditional screening methods. Using high-throughput mass spectrometry and innovative microfluidics, the RapidFire system enables researchers to gain a fuller understanding of a drug's biochemical properties, including potential liabilities in drug interactions."

The company's ultra high-speed automated valving, solid-phase extraction, and data-processing systems, when coupled with triple quadrupole or TOF/QTOF mass spectrometers, are said to provide extremely high sample throughput for the biopharmaceutical market. The company's products include the Rapid Fire 200, RapidFire 300 and RapidFire 360 high-throughput mass spectrometry systems. That last system might have been a harbinger of the recent acquisition, as Agilent and BIOCIUS jointly announced the introduction of the RapidFire 360 in May 2010 at the annual American Society for Mass Spectrometry conference.

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 unprecedented sample processing speed of RapidFire technology, Agilent says the instrument has "revolutionized in-vitro ADME analysis by eliminating the method development bottleneck in drug discovery."

Based in Wakefield, Mass., privately held BIOCIUS was formed in 2009 as a spinoff from BioTrove Inc. Named from the Greek word "bio" (life) and the Latin word "ocius" (faster), BIOCIUS provided products and services focused on the marriage of speed and accuracy across a range of applications, including drug discovery and ADME. Thirteen of the top 14 biopharmaceutical companies reportedly use products from BIOCIUS, and the company employed about 25 people, who have now joined Agilent.

"BIOCIUS' unique RapidFire technology gives customers an unsurpassed ability to increase the effectiveness and reduce the cost of drug discovery and compound identification," says Gustavo Salem, vice president of Agilent's Biological Systems Division within the company's Life Sciences Group. "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."

"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."

Agilent reports that it will honor all existing warranties for RapidFire products but notes that until Agilent's integration of BIOCIUS is complete, users should continue to contact BIOCIUS directly or work through their current distributor to purchase RapidFire product support. Once BIOCIUS is fully merged into Agilent, the acquiring company will be the source for the products, but it remains unclear whether all the products will continue to be offered. Agilent has said publicly that its intent is "to continue the majority of BIOCIUS' products."  The final decision will be made as part of the integration but, in any case, products will eventually be rebranded under the Agilent moniker, though the RapidFire product name and trademark will also be retained.

While it might not attract as much market attention, the acquisition of Lab901 a few days earlier is actually the "bigger deal"—at least in terms of headcount, as the Edinburgh, U.K.-based company employs approximately 45 people, nearly twice the staff size of BIOCIUS. Founded in 2001, Lab901 develops and manufactures electrophoresis products for DNA, RNA and protein research, and the company's products include the TapeStation benchtop instrument and ScreenTape plastic-based consumables and associated reagents.

The staff of Lab901, including former CEO Joel Fearnley, will join Agilent, the acquiring company said, though officials there have not yet noted what Fearnley's position will be within Agilent.

Jeffrey Bouley

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