The XF factor

California’s Agilent to acquire Massachusetts-based Seahorse Bioscience and its assay kits for measuring cell metabolism for $235 million

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SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Striving to be first in the analytical labs market and targeted clinical research field while expanding future pharma offerings, biotech Agilent Technologies Inc. has signed an agreement for the acquisition of Seahorse Bioscience and its assay kits for measuring cell metabolism—including its proprietary XF Technology—for $235 million. The deal is expected to be finalized on Nov. 1.
The use of cell metabolism in research is rapidly accelerating as the links between mitochondrial function and disease are increasingly revealed, the companies note, and Seahorse Bioscience’s technology enables researchers to better understand cell health, function and signaling and how the cell may be impacted by the introduction of a specific drug—also providing real-time kinetics to unlock essential cellular bioenergetics data.
But it’s Seahorse’s XF technology which gives scientists faster, better and more accurate measurements of real-time cellular bioenergetics. By measuring the two major energy producing pathways of the cell simultaneously, mitochondrial respiration and glycolysis, scientists get the most physiologically relevant bioenergetic assay available, resulting in a better overall view of metabolism, according to Seahorse. Its XF technology also measures fatty acid oxidation, and metabolism of glucose and amino acids for kinetic metabolic information.
Agilent plans to use Seahorse Bioscience’s proprietary XF Technology to research the role of cell metabolism in neurodegeneration, aging, cancer, cardiovascular disease, cell physiology, toxicology and hepatobiology, immunology, infectious diseases, mitochondrial diseases, model organisms, obesity, diabetes, metabolic disorders, screening and translational medicine.
“Seahorse Bioscience’s unique technology is the perfect complement to Agilent’s market-leading separations and mass spectrometry solutions, in particular for metabolomics research and disease research in pharma,” according to Patrick Kaltenbach, president of Agilent’s Life Sciences and Applied Markets Group. “The combination of these two platforms gives scientists a more comprehensive and faster path to researching the most challenging diseases affecting mankind.”
“Seahorse’s team and technology are an ideal fit for Agilent and for our customers, and we look forward to bringing them on board,” Kaltenbach adds.
Michele Drake, corporate media relations manager for Agilent, tells DDNews that “The acquisition of Seahorse Bioscience is one of Agilent’s largest and important to the company, but we have made two larger, previous acquisitions that were critical to the evolution of Agilent as a company focused on life sciences, diagnostics and the applied chemicals market. Those two acquisitions are Varian in May 2010 for $1.5 billion and Dako in June 2012 for $2.2 billion.”
Agilent is continuously monitoring the market for opportunities to complement its portfolio, Kaltenbach said. The Seahorse technology “complements Agilent’s strengths in metabolomics and therefore enables us to serve our customers in research and pharma even better in the future.”
Drake notes that, “Once the acquisition is completed, Seahorse will become part of Agilent. The majority of Seahorse’s staff is expected to join Agilent. There are no imminent plans to move any of the Seahorse sites.”
The acquisition is currently undergoing review to meet all local legal requirements, she said. In addition, Agilent and Seahorse are in the early stages of “integration planning” while they continue to operate as two separate companies until the transaction is finalized.
Since spinning off its electronic measurement business Keysight Technologies on Nov. 1, 2014, the “new Agilent” has finally been in a position to focus exclusively on the life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemical markets, Drake says.
 “The company is operating with clearly defined strategic priorities, aimed at meeting the needs of our customers and generating value for our shareholders,” Drake continues. “Agilent has moved quickly over the past several months to refine its portfolio and realign the organization for growth. Agilent has a strong and experienced leadership team, headed by Mike McMullen, who became CEO in March 2015. Under Mike’s leadership, Agilent is focusing on expanding its success in analytical laboratories to life-science solutions and diagnostics markets.”
Agilent’s vision is “to be No. 1 in the analytical labs marketplace and in targeted clinical research and diagnostic segments,” she explains. “We want to collaborate with our customers to empower breakthrough research and ultimately, support discoveries that advance the quality of life.”
Seahorse executives opted not to speak to the media while the final acquisition agreement is pending. However, in a news release, Jay Teich, CEO of Seahorse Bioscience, stated, “We are proud to have enabled the exploration of bioenergetics in living cells by nearly 10,000 scientists worldwide, and to have created a new category of cell-based assay tools.”
“Joining Agilent, a premier, customer-focused supplier of technology to a much broader market, will give many more researchers access to Seahorse tools,” Teich added. “And when these two technology-rich companies combine, we expect to offer a series of new products and applications that will benefit our customers.”
Privately held Seahorse Bioscience, founded in 2001, is headquartered in Billerica, Mass., with manufacturing operations in Chicopee, Mass., and regional offices in Copenhagen, Denmark and Shanghai.
In other recent news, Agilent announced on Aug. 26 a different kind of collaboration with Dr. Steven Gross, a faculty member in the Department of Pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York, N.Y., to advance research in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Agilent will provide the latest mass spectrometry technology to support his research, working toward an understanding of how the most common form of this disease develops in the body.
The Agilent 6230B LC TOF and 6550A LC Q-TOF mass spectrometers will be housed in the laboratory of Gross, an internationally recognized expert in the use of mass spectrometry-based metabolomics. His expertise is in pharmacology and cell biology, particularly in relation to the role of nitric oxide as a signaling molecule.
ALS is a deadly and progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and is also characterized by impaired metabolic control.
Sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (sALS) accounts for about 90 percent of all ALS cases and has no obvious genetic driver. Gross and his collaborators—Dr. Giovanni Manfredi, a professor of neuroscience in the Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute at Weill Cornell and Dr. Lorenz Studer, director of Sloan Kettering Institute’s Center for Stem Cell Biology—are investigating the molecular underpinnings of this form of ALS.
The Agilent tools will empower the investigators to apply a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the roots of this disease, the company said. Accurate-mass mass spectrometry will enable these researchers to test the hypothesis that fibroblasts express systemic metabolic markers that inform ALS.
“Translational research using a combination of biological disciplines—genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics, metabolomics—is an emerging trend in academia,” said Steven Fischer, Agilent’s market director for life-science research in academia and government. “Most researchers, however, do not know how to perform multi-omic analysis, and successful examples are needed. Agilent is working with the Gross lab at Weill Cornell to advance the multi-omics-based approach to disease research, using sporadic ALS to demonstrate the power of this method. We anticipate that this scientific work with Agilent will continue into the future as we apply multi-omics approaches to other poorly understood diseases with unmet clinical needs,” he added.

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