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Shopping for companies during the holidays
January 2012
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Early December saw three announcements from Agilent Technologies Inc. that it had signed acquisition agreements. Two deals were designed to expand its life-sciences business, with strategic acquisitions of Halo Genomics, a provider of technology for the next-generation DNA sequencing market, and BioSystem Development, which creates and manufactures solutions for life-science analytical needs. Rounding out the trio was Accelicon Technologies, which provides device-level modeling and validation software for the electronics industry.
All three companies are privately held, and no financial details of the deals were disclosed. The acquisition of Uppsala, Sweden-based Halo was already final by the time of the announcement, while the deal for Madison, Wis.-based BioSystem was expected to close by the end of 2011 and the deal for Cupertino-based Accelicon in early 2012.  
"Life science is the growth engine for Agilent, and these acquisitions are strategically very important," said Nick Roelofs, president of Agilent's Life Sciences Group, in the official statement about the Halo and BioSystem deals. "We're getting world-class technology and expertise in two key areas that will help us expand our portfolio and deliver the most complete workflow solutions for our customers."
Halo Genomics' technology addresses sequence-selective—that is, target enrichment—sample preparation next-generation sequencing, with the company's proprietary HaloPlex technology combining the speed and specificity of polymerase chain reaction-based systems with the scalability and capture-size flexibility of solution-based hybridization formats, thus eliminating the need for library preparation.  
"As the leader in target enrichment, it makes sense for Agilent to further our product line with innovative products. HaloPlex offers rapid, library prep-free target enrichment for smaller captures up to 500kb. A perfect match with our SureSelect product," Robert Schueren, vice president and general manager of Agilent's genomics business, tells ddn. "We think HaloPlex will compliment SureSelect nicely, while offering a more rapid protocol for smaller captures."   In addition, he notes, Agilent customers will now simply have better flexibility in choosing one or the other platform if they desire.  
Halo Genomics' current HaloPlex technology is offered as a customizable product, using a web-based design tool called Web Design Wizard, which Agilent describes as a "highly intuitive tool" that enables users to create designs in less than 10 minutes at no charge. "Halo Genomics' unique technology and talented R&D team will expand Agilent's solutions for emerging sequencing applications and accelerate our entry into the rapidly growing next-gen clinical sequencing market," said Gustavo Salem, vice president and general manager of Agilent's Biological Systems Division within the Life Sciences Group, in the news release about the deal. "This acquisition further builds upon Agilent's position as a leader in genomics."  
BioSystem presents a more organic acquisition, perhaps, given that it and Agilent already had a relationship.   "We have been partnering with BioSystem Development for almost two years on the co-development of the AssayMAP 96 syringe head for the Agilent Bravo liquid handler," Yvonne Linney, vice president and general manager of Agilent's Automation Solutions Group, tells ddn. "Agilent was the exclusive distributor to the 96-well format of the AssayMAP cartridges and recently launched a portfolio of cartridges for protein isolation and purification. These include Protein A, for general antibody capture and immunoprecipitation, Trypsin for rapid, on column digestion, Reverse Phase for sample prep clean up and Streptavidin for general capture of biotin labeled targets."
As life-science discovery and development continues to move toward a better understanding of biological responses to disease, the need for high-throughput, quality protein sample preparation and analysis becomes even more critical, noted Fred Strohmeier, vice president and general manager of Agilent's Liquid Phase Analysis Division within the company's Life Sciences Group, in the news release about the deal. BioSystem Development's AssayMAP platform, based on disposable microchromatography cartridges, enables high-throughput protein purification, characterization and analysis solutions for bioprocess development, biomarker identification and analysis, as well as a variety of other life-science research applications.  
The enabling AssayMAP technology, combined with Agilent's automated liquid-handling capabilities, will reduce drug discovery and development time and increase lab efficiency.   "With Agilent's continued focus and growth in bioanalysis and life-science research this technology provides an array of opportunities for continued development in this area; by acquiring the technology, we would be able to provide the investment required to continue to evolve the platform," Linney says. "Our sample-prep portfolio continues to evolve and the AssayMAP platform provides a format to build on. With our capabilities in media development, strengthened through the Varian acquisition and automated liquid handling, we believe that we can continue to develop our products for sample prep in front of our analytical platforms."  
Linney adds that while the BioSystem acquisition does not immediately enable anything new at Agilent, "it will strengthen the product and assay development portfolio. You can expect to see more dedicated assay offerings from Agilent in the future."  
The Accelicon acquisition, while important to Agilent's overall business, has no direct impact on life sciences. The acquisition, led by Agilent's EEsof EDA organization, will further enhance Agilent's leadership in semiconductor device modeling. As Agilent notes, accurate, verified device models are critical to reduce R&D design cycles as higher frequencies, smaller technology nodes, new materials and device layouts call for more accurate process design kits. As a result, device modeling continues to be one of the most critical parts of the electronics design flow.
Accelicon was the first company to offer a dedicated platform for device models validation, Janet Smith, Agilent's North American public relations manager for the Electronic Measurement Group, tells ddn.  
"Others have similar tools, but Accelicon's MQA is the industry standard tool," she notes. "There is no real linkage to the Life Sciences part of Agilent [with this acquisition]. Historically, Agilent modeling focus has been on compound semiconductor modeling for RF applications to support the design and fabrication of components for our RF instruments."  

Agilent Technologies, Monash University team up on genomics research in Malaysia  
SELANGOR, Malaysia—Agilent Technologies Inc. and Monash University announced last month a collaboration to promote talent and skills development for genomics research in Malaysia.   The partnership, the first of its kind for Agilent with a university in Malaysia, will help Malaysia assert itself as a leading center for life sciences research and development in Southeast Asia, according to the two parties. Under the agreement, a center of excellence called the Monash-Agilent Authorized Microarray Service Center (AMSC) will be established at Monash University's Sunway campus. The center will be equipped with the latest microarray instruments and provide competency training for the center's lab professionals undertaking molecular-genetic studies of human disease.
The collaboration will see knowledge-sharing between both organizations, including real-time communication of new developments in the field of microarray applications as well as networking with Agilent's global customers.  
"The establishment of the AMSC will be a timely boost in the collaboration between Agilent and Monash University Sunway campus through the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, providing the opportunity to access advanced technologies to strengthen our current genomics research in diabetes, cancer, neurobiology and infectious diseases," said Prof. Dato Dr. Anuar Zaini Zain, head of the school, in a press release.

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