One bird with two stones

Agilent establishes two collaborations that continue its goal to find strong partners who can help it bring novel and effective solutions to researchers

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SANTA CLARA, Calif.—At the end of May and beginning of June, Agilent Technologies Inc. completed a pair of deals: one on the other side of the country, with Washington, D.C. area-based Anderson Forschung Group (AFG), and the other across the Atlantic with Cambridge, U.K.-based Owlstone Nanotech Inc. In many ways, the deals Agilent struck are as far removed from each other thematically as the two new partners are physically from each other, but both deals point to a single strategic goal at Agilent.

"On the one hand, these two deals are along different tracks and don't cross over each other at all except in terms of timing," says Gustavo Salem, vice president and general manager of Agilent's Biological Systems Division. "But what they do represent as a unit is the continued balance of our interests in driving both hardware and technological developments that will enable better solutions for customers, and our continued effort to develop applications that are not only new and interesting, but also serve real value in the scientific community."

In the case of the AFG collaboration, the goal is to develop quantitative peptide assays to speed protein biomarker discovery and validation. The effort will combine AFG's stable isotope standards and capture by anti-peptide antibodies (SISCAPA) technology with Agilent's 1200 Series HPLC-Chip and 6400 Series triple quadrupole mass spectrometers. The combination will be used to develop methods for measuring the amounts of large numbers of peptides in digests of complex samples such as plasma.

"One of the greatest challenges to delivering useful knowledge using the protein biomarker discovery paradigm is achieving effective, reproducible and highly sensitive peptide quantitation," Salem notes.

"Agilent is a relatively new participant in the mass spectrometry marketplace, only for the last few years, so they are quite innovative and have thought a lot about what the potential for mass spectrometry technologies is, all the way into the direction of biomarkers and clinical assays," says Leigh Anderson, CEO of Anderson Forschung Group. "So their capabilities and understanding of the potential for mass spec to measure important clinical analytes is an attractive package as we look to bring very high performance to these kinds of assays."

This is the right time for a collaboration like this, Anderson adds, because the SISCAPA technology being implementing on Agilents' LC/MS platform is one that is being used in a couple very large projects for biomarker assays right now.

"Ultimately, the thought is to use these kinds of assays to quantitate the whole human proteome," he says, as part of something called the hPDQ project. He also believes that the SISCAPA assays for candidate biomarkers can benefit substantially from the reproducibility and sensitivity of Agilent's platform.

The deal with Owlstone Nanotech, on the other hand, represents a phase one agreement to develop that company's field-asymmetric ion mobility spectrometry (FAIMS) filter as a front-end separation module for Agilent's Accurate Mass time-of-flight mass spectrometers. The goal is to determine how the systems can work together to enable identification of previously unresolved analytes. The collaboration will also explore how FAIMS can speed up liquid chromatographic separations, saving valuable analysis time.

"The fast scanning speed of the Owlstone micro-scale FAIMS device now makes it feasible to acquire ion mobility spectra from LC/MS separations in real time," says John Fjeldsted, Agilent LC/MS research and development director. "In particular, our TOF and QTOF systems with Agilent Jet Stream Technology are uniquely suited for coupling to high-speed ion mobility separations by virtue of very high spectral acquisition rates and an excellent analyte desolvation design."

"The collaboration with Agilent gives us the opportunity to integrate our technology onto highly sensitive mass spectrometers that are ideal for demonstrating the benefit of the uniquely high-field, fast scanning ability of our FAIMS device," adds Bret Bader, Owlstone CEO. "Partnerships with highly-skilled organizations like Agilent are a key part of our business strategy."

This latter sentiment is one shared by Agilent, and represents another way in which these two divergent collaborations are linked, at least strategically, for Agilent, Salem points out.

"As you look at both deals, an important point to consider is that the continued rapid advances of both technology in general and applications specifically are going to require good, strong, collaborative partners," Salem says. "It's just not reasonable to believe that overall, we can bring truly capable solutions for increasingly complex problems all by ourself and do it both effectively and efficiently. What we aim for, and what we have been able to do with these two deals and others in the past is to identify strong partners who not complement us but who see the value in our technology."

Financial details were not disclosed for either deal.

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