HOLLISTON, Mass.—FujiFilm, well known for its photographic film, recently announced its intention to gain a foothold in the North American life sciences market via a three-year marketing and distribution agreement with DNA isolation and purification company AutoGen Corp., based here.
The deal focuses on FujiFilm's QuickGene nucleic acid extraction and purification line and related kits and reagents. Already well-known in Japan as a premier provider of life science technology and in vitro diagnostics equipment leveraging its expertise in porous thin-film technology, the company is aiming to build a global presence beyond its photographic film business.
""North America is the world's largest basic research market," says Masahiro Etoh, manager, life science products, for Tokyo-based, FujiFilm Co., in a prepared statement announcing the deal. "To establish FujiFilm as a true global provider of life sciences solutions, a strong presence in North America is mandatory. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with the North American life sciences community and to sharing the benefits of our award-winning technology."
For AutoGen, the opportunity to market and distribute the QuickGene products goes beyond the opportunity to align itself with what is virtually a household name—it gets to the heart of an ongoing trend in the industry.
"There are a lot of our customer that we see who are still in basic research," says Bob Sullivan, president of AutoGen. "Many of these researchers don't have the throughput to purchase a more expensive automated system and this can help meet those basic research needs."
Bringing on the QuickGene line also helps fill AutoGen's products portfolio. Already a recognized name in the world of automating nucleic acid processing equipment, it's market, to date, has focused on high- and medium-throughput applications for DNA and RNA isolation with such products as the AutoGenPrep 965 and the AutoGenFlex STAR, with price tags starting around $75,000.
The QuickGene 810 and 610 units sell for around $12,500 each and the third product in the line, the mini80, which it touts as a "personal nucleic acid isolation device" can be purchased for $1,500.
At the heart of the three products is FujiFilm's 80-micron thick porous film membrane, which is more than 12 times thinner than traditional glass filters used for the same purpose. Using the membrane, the QuickGene also differs from other devices in that it uses slight positive air pressure onto the membrane for the isolation of nucleic acids, versus centrifugation or other extraction techniques. The results, the company maintains, are higher extraction yields and higher quality nucleic acids for researchers.
According to Sullivan, the most direct competition for the QuickGene line will be isolation products sold by Qiagen. But at the same time Sullivan also believes that the competition is not particularly direct.
"We are here to provide an alternative," he says. "But it is an alternative that is a step up in terms of the automation QuickGene provides and also in terms of the quality, so we don't really intend to go head-to-head with them."
But it did take a bit of a forward approach for AutoGen to get the line it needed on the lower end of the market. Sullivan says he and other AutoGen employees began seeing the FujiFilm units in Europe, where they are being distributed by FujiFilm's German subsidiary. A little digging led AutoGen to the FujiFilm subsidiary in this country that was handling the QuickGene. The timing was right, apparently, as AutoGen quickly secured the current deal.
"Fuji understands that there is a big market in the U.S. and how important good distribution for their product is," Sullivan notes. The singular focus of AutoGen on the nucleic acid purification and isolation market also came into play. As FujiFilm's Etoh notes: "FujiFilm chose AutoGen based on their expertise and long history of working with nucleic acid extraction systems. They are very well-suited to help customers choose the best system for their needs and to assist them in optimizing it once installed. It's an excellent fit for both companies."