FULLERTON, Calif.—Beckman Coulter announced in mid-September that it had acquired the entire instrumentation asset portfolio along with related intellectual property of Aurora Discovery Inc., comprising nanofluidic handling and detection assets, inventory, patents and trademarks. This acquisition fills a gap in microfluidic handling in Beckman Coulter's current line of products and helps the company address the rapidly growing assay miniaturization market in both genomics and other drug discovery work. Financial terms of the agreement were not released.
For Aurora, the sale of its instrument business allows the company to refocus its operations under a new name—Aurora Biotechnologies—and move ahead under a new business model, as a supplier of high-density microplates. A second agreement between the two companies will make Beckman Coulter a distributor of Aurora's microplate line.
"Being a true global provider of analytical instrumentation that serves the marketplace for drug discovery and genomics and proteomics requires that you have an infrastructure that matches those of very large organizations like Beckman Coutler," says Charles Powell, VP of marketing and sales for Aurora Biotechnologies. "We felt we had a much better chance—given the size of the company and given our human and capital resources—to take advantage of our microplate business versus running a microplate and instrument business."
According to Chris Neary, Beckman Coulter's VP of biomarker discovery and automation, the acquisition of Aurora instrumentation—which includes the BioRAPTR and PicoRAPTR liquid handlers and its NanoRAPTR and Scout MPD Multi-Piezo dispensing systems—comes as microfluidics technology is finally coming of age.
"We had worked internally on microfluidic technology a few years back and had looked in the market for ones we might have interest in, but backed off," Neary says. "At that time it wasn't clear what was going to be the technology used and which one would catch on."
A number of things were attractive to Beckman Coulter, as they considered adding Aurora's products to its line. First, Neary notes, is the ability to integrate the instruments immediately with the company's flagship BioMek assay workstation automation platform.
"There is a lot of pull-through in the market right now from liquid handling in the 100 nL to 500 nL range," Neary says. "We can put these right on the BioMek deck and for around $500,000, companies can have a mini screening factory."
Also attractive was the fact that all four liquid handling technologies are built on the same chassis, making it easy to add and remove the liquid handlers to allow for flexibility in workflow design as a company's needs change.
Finally, Beckman found the associated ability of Aurora's instruments to "cherry pick" or create as many different combinations of reagents and cells as there are wells on a plate attractive, since it wasn't a capability of any of the company's other products.
Initially, Aurora approached a number of companies about setting up a distribution and service relationship for its products, though Powell admits that most companies, including Beckman Coulter, were "lukewarm" to the idea.
"As our new business model evolved earlier this year, it made sense for us to sell the instrument business and move forward with our microplate business," Powell says. "When we approached Beckman Coulter with this idea, they were very interested."
Not to be overlooked in the sale, however, is the associated agreement whereby Beckman Coulter will become a distributor of Aurora's high-density microplates.
"It was very important for them to be able to have this agreement in order to provide these along with the new instruments," Powell notes.