Supercritical success

Building on a years-long relationship and a recent equity investment, Waters acquires SFC specialist Thar Instruments

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MILFORD, Mass.—In early February, Waters Corp. announced it acquired the remaining shares of privately-held supercritical fluid (SFC) chromatography manufacturer Thar Instruments Inc. Waters previously made an equity investment in Thar in mid-2007. While neither company released the purchase price, Waters did indicate that Thar's SFC business currently generates approximately $18 million in yearly revenue.

It seemed only a matter of time before Thar became a part of life sciences heavyweight Waters. The two companies have a relationship that stretches back to 2005 and in 2007, coinciding with the equity investment, the two companies began collaborative work to more closely match Thar's SFC technology with Waters' Micromass ZQ mass spec system. In addition, the two companies have been working to provide better control of Thar's SFC technology within Waters' MassLynx automation and informatics platform.

According to Rohit Kanna, vice president of worldwide marketing at Waters, bringing Thar in-house right now was based on two things: the opportunity its sees for SFC technology for conducting chromatographic separations, and a meshing with the company's "green" messaging surrounding it Aquity UPLC liquid chromatography platform.

"Our philosophy is when we look at acquisitions, we are very careful about what we envision as the market opportunity," says Kanna. "[Adding] $18 million is not what we are after. You can read between the lines that our expectations are, within a reasonable time period, we can build Thar's SFC business to more than $100 million."

The reason for Kanna's optimism lay not in the area where Thar currently derives most of its business—chiral separations for pharmaceutical R&D—but from the potential of the technology for compound purification applications.

"One of the most important issues in purification is dry down time when you use liquid solvents for the purification process," Kanna says. "SFC has a real advantage in that those things that can be purified with SFC, since it uses C02 has virtually no dry down time and that represents dramatic workflow improvements."

For the management at Thar, the time to join Waters is right not only to take advantage of the opportunity in the purification market using Waters vast marketing resources and worldwide distribution, but also to keep pace on the informatics side of the equation, to make sure the Thar instruments are optimized to fit the needs of the market for nimble handling of data.

"What we see is for uptake of this technology is that informatics development needs to keep pace with the tools," says Harbaksh Sidhu, former CEO of Thar and now, managing director of Thar SFC. "It is difficult to keep pace with the development and the very sophisticated informatics needed for a company our size. With Waters, we can gain that expertise."

Of utmost importance in this equation, Sidhu notes, is the need to make running SFC chromatography as easy as it is to run traditional chromatography methods. This will allow for greater adoption of SFC within many companies, as they will no longer need to have a specialist specifically trained for SFC separations.

As with other acquisitions it has completed in the past, Waters will keep much of the Thar team in place at its current Pittsburgh location, which will now be the company's center for SFC R&D.

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