As the first task for most downstream molecular biology applications, nucleic acid sample preparation remains a crucial step in the scientific workflow. The quality of this primary step can ultimately enable successful results or impair an entire project. Therefore, scientists have increasingly sought methods that reduce errors, standardize protocols, and deliver accurate, fast, and reproducible results.
In addition, many laboratories require high-throughput solutions to process large volumes of samples. Others simply desire an easy-to-use, walk-away instrument that requires little time or expertise to operate. These needs have led to the expansion of the automated nucleic acid purification and isolation market in recent years. This diverse market ranges from large high-throughput liquid-handling workstations to a newer class of low-to-mid-throughput compact personal automated systems.
The assortment of products in this market offers customers a range of options, including throughputs, price levels, closed or open systems, and application-dedicated or flexible systems. The market supplies low-, mid-, and high-throughput systems to fit each customer’s sample volume need.
Instruments also diverge in price across portfolios and from vendor to vendor, as funding levels vary dramatically across the range of end-users. Some suppliers offer open systems, allowing customers to choose what reagent manufacturers and kits they want to use in conjunction with automation. Others opt to develop closed systems and supply the reagents needed for the specific instrument. Additionally, some vendors provide flexible systems that work for a range of applications, sample types, and research areas. Other suppliers develop dedicated systems that are application-specific, research area-specific, or sample type-specific instruments.
This broad variety of automated solutions allows the market to reach an array of customer bases. This market serves pharmaceutical companies that often require high-throughput systems to accommodate large volumes of samples and highly value time-saving automation to increase the pace of their research.
Additionally, clinical laboratories are increasingly using automated methods for purification, mainly for ease-of-use and having a walk-away solution that frees up time for more important tasks. Forensic laboratories are slowly adopting automation as well, profiting from the standardization and regulatory requirements that ensure these instruments perform better than manual methods.
Although academia is often much slower to adopt expensive instrumentation when manual methods are available, some of the higher-throughput laboratories or core facilities are likely to use automation for the ability to process many samples simultaneously. However, with more options on the market and vendors starting to compete on price, instrumentation will likely become more desirable and affordable for a larger customer base than the market currently serves.
In a recent Frost & Sullivan analysis, 53% of pharmaceutical respondents reported always or often utilizing automation with liquid handling for isolation and purification prior to analysis. In addition, 28% of biotechnology companies and hospitals/clinical laboratories, 33% of federal and state government-sponsored researchers, and a mere 16% of academic laboratories report always or often using automation for nucleic acid purification. With relatively low saturation rates across most customer bases other than pharmaceutical laboratories, there are still major opportunities for vendors to penetrate the market and gain market share.
Several other market conditions will facilitate growth through 2014. As requirements for sample preparation continue to tighten in regulated markets, researchers are likely to turn to validated instruments to meet these guidelines. Reliability, reproducibility, consistency, purity, and yield continue to be major decisive factors for customers converting from manual techniques to automation. Additionally, the potential increase in downstream applications requiring nucleic acid purification and isolation will likely contribute to higher growth rates in the future. Instrumentation costs and budgetary restraints, however, will likely continue to restrain the market.