PALO ALTO—Looking to continue rounding out its information rich detection product portfolio, Varian Inc. announced in late February its acquisition of Lake Forest, Calif.-based Ion Spec Corp. for $16 million in cash, which included paying down assumed debt. Central to the deal was the acquisition of IonSpec's Fourier transform mass spectrometry (FTMS) technology – a technology officials of both companies say has the highest resolving power of any mass spec instrument currently on the market.
"We are looking to expand our presence in information rich detection and this is one of the key technology areas we have identified," says Martin O'Donoghue, senior VP of scientific instruments for Varian. "It's a technology that fits very well with our other mass spec offerings and our high-end magnetic resonance imaging systems."
For IonSpec, which had experienced healthy sales growth for it big-ticket FTMS tool, the question became whether to continue on its current path or find a way to increase exposure of its products to greatly increase sales.
"We see this as an expanding market and we felt the time was now to find a way to get it into the hands of researchers worldwide," says Jeff McIver, director of marketing for IonSpec. "Finding a global partner like Varian is just what we were looking for."
While IonSpec's FTMS products are used in a variety of industries, McIver says they are highly useful for proteomics researchers involved in drug discovery. "In the area of top-down proteomics, researchers might be looking at post translational modification," he says. "But using MS/MS does not preserve the proteins, whereas using our electron capture dissociation allows for the identification of the post translational modifications of proteins."
McIver admits that much of what the IonSpec sales force has done in the past is based on educating potential customers on the performance of FTMS and how it can benefit life science researchers. With a price tag of roughly $400,000 for it best instrument, the market is clearly major pharmaceutical companies, core labs and larger universities and research organizations.
Which is where Varian thinks it can accelerate sales, based on it global reach and established sales network.
"There is no question IonSpec could have continued on their path and made a nice little business," says O'Donoghue. "But if you want to ramp up beyond that, it is very hard to do since the highest cost, by far, in the industry is the distribution channel."