Invitrogen (www.invitrogen.com), supplier of reagents and tools for gene and protein research for 20 years, is expanding its product lines and moving toward cell biology.
In the past few years, Invitrogen has acquired 15 companies in a wide variety of science areas. These companies have brought reagents for labeling and detecting molecules in cells, antibodies for tagging cells, and growth factors. “All these additions helped us expand our cell biology expertise,” says Greg Lucier, president and CEO.
Cell biology, according to Lucier, consists of three segments—cell synthesis, cell analysis, and cell control. Invitrogen’s historical roots trace back to cell synthesis, when Lyle Turner in 1987 founded the company in his garage to sell a single cDNA library. That marked the first of thousands of DNA and protein products sold by Invitrogen.
Cell analysis dominates today’s research as scientists try to understand mechanisms and behaviors of molecules and pathways. “Many of today’s therapeutics fail because we still don’t know what’s going on in the cell,” Lucier notes. “The future of cell biology products lies in controlling cells.”
Invitrogen is a major player in controlling cell growth through its Gibco® brand of media, sera, and cell culture reagents. Gibco is a recognized brand name for cell media, and many biologics are manufactured using this core competency. “We’re getting smart about how to make cells grow,” comments Lucier. That knowledge is moving Invitrogen into stem cell research and regenerative medicine.
About two years ago, Invitrogen recognized that the self-renewing properties of stem cells were an important emerging area. It dedicated a business team to explore the direction and strategy that the company should take.
Joydeep Goswami, Ph.D., vp of stem cells and regenerative medicine, was already familiar with new technologies being invented at universities as the former head of the company’s corporate licensing group. He teamed up with Mahendra Rao, Ph.D., former head of the stem cell group at the National Institute on Aging, to build a team to develop novel stem cell products. About 20 scientists at Invitrogen now specialize in solving the problems that plague stem cell researchers.
Today Invitrogen offers more than 1,200 products for the purification, culture, verification, differentiation, and analysis of both embryonic and adult stem cells. “These are the picks and shovels for all steps in the stem-cell-research work flow,” Lucier says.
Recent product introductions include StemPro® hESC SFM, a fully defined, serum- and feeder-free media to grow stem cells, and an engineered cell line that uses green fluorescent protein to determine whether or not a cell has begun to differentiate. When the cell is in a pluripotent state it glows green, but as it starts to differentiate, it loses fluorescence.
Among Invitrogen’s other stem cell products are Dynabeads® to separate stem cells from other cells; a variety of antibodies to identify stages of stem cell pluripotency and differentiation; proteomic, genomic, and epigenetic tools to characterize stem cells; Stealth™ RNAi products to investigate mechanisms of stem cell differentiation; Alexa Fluor® and other stains and dyes to visualize stem cells in multiple species; Lipofectamine™ 2000 Transfection Reagent to transfer genes into stem cells; and growth factors to support growth and differentiation of stem cells.
Other new technologies examine entire pathways involved in stem cell differentiation, rather than just single genes, Lucier reports. The quantum-dot technology allows researchers to see pathways and perform pathway analysis. Fluorescent nanocrystals are combined with custom antibodies to attach to molecules of interest.
Unlike standard fluorescent dyes that light up cells for only a few minutes, quantum dots fluoresce forever, so cells can be archived for future reference. The amount of light given off by quantum dots, which is an order of magnitude greater than dyes emit, can be used to follow the dynamics of living cells. The basic technology came to Invitrogen when it acquired Quantum Dot.
The Gateway® technology permits the rapid cloning and insertion of a gene into many different types of systems. Gateway vectors make it easy to move genes in and out of different cellular host systems. Changes in the cell are observed as the gene expresses itself in cells. “At first we could only add one gene,” says Lucier, “but now we can add multiple genes.”
Invitrogen recognizes that many scientists are unfamiliar with stem cell laboratory methods and offers stem cell training courses worldwide built around NIH protocols as well as network resources.
Long known as a reagent company, Invitrogen broadened its focus last year to include benchtop instruments that complement its reagents. A popular product is iBlot, which shortens the time it takes to do Western blot analysis from four hours to seven minutes, Lucier notes. “It’s a huge productivity saver for researchers,” Lucier adds.
Invitrogen also built up its online ordering capabilities. Four years ago, 17% of the company’s sales were transacted through its website, now more than half of all orders are placed online.
Invitrogen’s efforts have not been in vain. In the third quarter of 2007 the company’s earnings per share reportedly grew 40% over the same period last year, and revenue grew by almost 11% to $315 million.