Filling a ‘critical’ gap

Agilent now offers single-vendor solutions in supercritical fluid chromatography with acquisition of Aurora SFC Systems’ assets

Jeffrey Bouley
SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Although itdidn't disclose the sum it paid, Agilent Technologies Inc. did letthe world know in late August that it had acquired the assets ofRedwood City, Calif.-based Aurora SFC Systems Inc., which it called"a leading provider of supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC)products for laboratory research and analysis."
 
The terms of the acquisition deal giveAgilent not just the Aurora SFC Systems product line, but all of theintellectual property associated with it as well to assist in futureupgrades to existing technologies or advancements of the technology.

A relationship had already existedbetween the two companies, with Agilent noting that it has been apartner to Aurora—which was founded very recently in 2007—forsome two years already, given that Aurora's Fusion A5 platform isembedded into Agilent's SFC and Hybrid SFC/UHPLC systems. Inaddition, the technology is sold as part of an upgrade option toAgilent's 1100, 1200 and 1260 Series liquid chromatography (LC)systems.

By acquiring the Aurora SFC assets,Agilent is now in a position to offer these products as fullyintegrated, single-vendor SFC solutions, notes Patrick Kaltenbach,vice president and general manager of Agilent's Liquid PhaseSeparations business. As he puts it, "We valued the partnership wehad with Aurora SFC Systems and are excited to bring this technologyand expertise into Agilent. The deployment of orthogonal separationtechniques has gained significant importance in liquid phaseseparations as regulatory agencies increasingly demand comprehensiveresults."

Supercritical fluid chromatography is anormal phase technique that provides different selectivity comparedto reversed phase UHPLC separation, and SFC is used for a broad rangeof applications, so the revenue potential for Agilent extends farbeyond the life-sciences market. Applications for SFC includeseparation of chiral compounds, detection of impurities inpharmaceutical samples, determination of additives and migrationproducts in consumer goods and food packaging or in ASTM methods suchas D5186 for the determination of aromatic content in fuels.

As Agilent describes it, "SFCrepresents a generic, cost-effective alternative to HPLC, providingresults faster and with superior resolution." Agilent also pointsout that SFC is considered a "green" technique because itminimizes the consumption of organic solvents and mitigates thegeneration of large amounts of toxic waste.

In considering the asset andintellectual property acquisition deal, Zacks Investment Researchfocused its sights on the food-testing applications, noting that SFCtechnology has particular importance in the food testing segment,"where it has been used for the analysis of pesticide residues infood items. The most prevalent technique used in food testing iscurrently liquid chromatography."

Although SFC technology offerspictorial output, "its advantage lays in its simplicity, whichspeeds up data collection, and thereby, the entire testing processand this is where Agilent's interest lies," Zacks maintains inits investors note.

"Agilent already enjoys a strongmarket position, but the company's food testing business hasdisappointed in recent times," Zacks points out. "With theacquisition of Aurora's supercritical fluid chromatography assets,Agilent will be able to provide fully integrated, single-vendor SFCsolutions. This could enable the company to grow sales and even pickup some market share."

Currently, Agilent Technologies Inc.has a Zacks #3 Rank, implying a short-term "Hold" rating.

In more recent but notacquisition-oriented news in the LC realm—and with a morelife-science-specific angle, Agilent announced Sept. 16 that it hasentered into a co-marketing agreement with Molecular Discovery Ltd.to provide biopharmaceutical researchers with an advancedmetabolite-identification platform. The companies will co-market thecombined assets of Agilent's high-resolution LC/MS technology andMolecular Discovery's Mass-MetaSite software "to enable superioridentification and analysis of complex biological mixtures."

"Until now, the challenges ofidentifying and predicting human drug metabolism have been majorobstacles in the development of safe, effective drug candidates,"said Gus Salem, vice president and general manager of Agilent'sBiological Systems Division. "Together, Agilent Technologies andMolecular Discovery are working to solve this problem inpharmaceutical research. Whereas traditional metaboliteidentification, synthesis and toxicity testing has been costly andtime consuming for researchers, our combined industry-leadingtechnologies will now give them faster, more accurate data, and theconfidence they need to ensure the safety of their products muchearlier in the preclinical phase of development."



Jeffrey Bouley

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