Business is business. It is a mantra that has guided much of my adult life. A life spent writing news about a diversity of industries —everything from home medical equipment and security, to custom home entertainment systems and gourmet food. Yet, soon after I jumped on board to help start Drug Discovery News, I wavered and considered abandoning that mantra.
Because here was an industry that seemed just out of reach, one that dealt in the nearly intangible. I understand the market for a good chunky salsa or a really stunning home theater system. But this world of short interfering RNAs, magnetic beads for nucleic acid separation, in silico predictive modeling of complex biological systems and microfluidic handling systems was different. So surely, the operation of the businesses within it and how they served their customers must be different.
I felt that way until just a couple of days ago, when I discovered for only the 15,523rd time in my life that I was wrong. It was naïve of me to think that just because the technology and science of drug discovery is enough to make even a reasonably well-educated man's eye's glaze over—and mine were, trust me— that somehow the fundamentals of business would be different.
Just before we hit our deadline for this issue the top story on our front page broke. Beckman Coulter was buying Agencourt Bioscience. There wasn't much time to get the story into this issue and perhaps that helped. But as I reported this breaking news, it became clear that I was covering the same issues I always had, the issues about market opportunity, creating complete product offerings, aligning respected and recognized industry names all with a dash of potential future opportunities.
In this case, Beckman wanted to create an integrated offering of molecular diagnostic tools and reagents. Meanwhile, Agencourt had good products, but was a smaller company that would be challenged to quickly build its reagents business with its current resources. Big company with global distribution, meet smaller company seeking increased sales. Boiled down to its basics, it seems like a no-brainer.
The real intrigue to this story, at least for me however, lies not in today's business opportunities for both companies, but what may lie ahead. Somewhat hidden in the press release announcing the deal was the formation of a new entity called Agencourt Personal Genomics which will work to develop a "sequencing by synthesis" approach to personal genome sequencing. Quite a coincidence that I also reported on Solexa receiving $32.5 million to fund commercialization of a similar product it believes can deliver a sequenced genome for about $100,000.
Or maybe not such a coincidence. And then for me the veil began to lift and I could clearly see one area of the drug discovery business taking its early steps and two competitors, eyeing the same trophy in a race to see who will be better suited to the task or to the market.