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Corporate Profile : Aug 1, 2007 (Vol. 27, No. 14)

Thermo Fisher Targets Lab Solutions

Firm's Offerings Run the Gamut from Routine Equipment to Advanced Analytical Instruments
  • Carol Potera

The former Thermo Electron was never shy about acquiring companies. George Hatsopoulos founded the company in 1956 and then bought another approximately 80 companies to produce analytical laboratory instruments and biomedical research products. Marijn E. Dekkers, Ph.D., who became president and CEO in 2002, made a few acquisitions of his own, including Fisher Scientific International for $10.6 billion in November 2006. The consolidated firm now operates under the name Thermo Fisher Scientific (www.thermofisher.com), employs 30,000 people worldwide, and is still headquartered in Waltham, MA.

“The merger makes Thermo Fisher Scientific the world’s leading supplier of products and services for laboratories working in the life sciences industry,” says Dr. Dekkers, who predicts revenues of $9.4–9.5 billion in 2007, with 45% coming from researchers at government and academic institutions and life sciences companies who buy instruments and consumables from Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Before the acquisition, there was little overlap in the product lines from the two companies. Fisher formerly concentrated on selling consumables and biological reagents, whereas Thermo focused on advanced laboratory instruments and software. “Now we have both these capabilities in one company,” says Dr. Dekkers, “so we can put together integrated solutions and workflows for our customers.”

Product Integration

Laboratory researchers often assemble separate parts from different suppliers, “but it is very time consuming, and if you don’t do it in the most optimized way, your experiments don’t run well,” says Dr. Dekkers.

Now the company’s strategy is to visit laboratories and work with customers to integrate instruments and consumables. They look at all the steps in a customer’s process and optimize the workflow. The former Thermo Electron provided this type of service for hardware and software products, and “now we are pulling in the consumables stream as well,” Dr. Dekkers adds.

Thermo Fisher Scientific sells products and services under two major brand names—Thermo Scientific and Fisher Scientific. Thermo Scientific includes analytical instruments, complementary reagents, and advanced technical products, whereas Fisher Scientific offers multiple purchasing options for routine equipment and consumables as well as a range of services to biopharma customers. Both legacy companies acquired some well-recognized names, such as Pierce or Nicolet. Those names live on, but as product lines under the Thermo Scientific brand. “Think of Thermo Scientific as being like Toyota, and Pierce is like the Camry,” explains Dr. Dekkers.

In addition to the transition to new brands, new services are being promoted. For instance, Fisher Scientific offers services for clinical trial management, including the packaging, labeling, and distribution of drugs and placebos to the correct patients, monitoring of patient compliance, and management of data collection. “Big pharma used to do this themselves,” says Dr. Dekkers, “but now often outsource, especially in large Phase III trials.”

Fisher Scientific also operates strategically placed “freezer farms” close to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and large institutions for the storage of biological samples at ultralow temperatures. “A lot of our customers are running out of space to store tissue samples, blood, cells, and vaccines,” says Dr. Dekkers. Fisher Scientific catalogs samples for easy retrieval and ships samples to clients on request.

Electron Transfer Dissociation

Mass spectrometry has become the method of choice for protein analysis and biomarker discovery. At “Pittcon 2007”, Thermo Scientific introduced electron transfer dissociation (ETD) on a linear ion trap mass spectrometer. ETD is a new method that fragments proteins in order to pinpoint important system biology changes in structure that occur in response to a growth factor or other stimulation.

ETD is available on the Thermo Scientific LTQ XL™ mass spectrometer. “ETD is a revolution for proteomic analysis because it dramatically increases the amount of sequence information you can get from larger proteins,” says Ian Jardine, Ph.D., vp of global R&D at Thermo Fisher Scientific. ETD works best with linear ion traps that Thermo Scientific provides for the LTQ XL.

ETD, which improves on the traditional method of collision-induced dissociation (CID), provides important new peptide structure information not available from conventional dissociation methods, such as post-translational phosphorylation, according to Dr. Jardine. He predicts that in two years, every high-end proteomics lab will be using ETD to stay competitive, and in three to five years, ETD will be used routinely in all proteomics labs. “It is too powerful a tool not to use,” adds Dr. Jardine.

Systems biology researchers use mass spectrometry for SILAC (stable isotope labeling of amino acids in cell culture) experiments. Using the older CID method, researchers at the Max Planck Institute detected 2,000 proteins and 6,000 phosphorylation sites after adding epidermal growth factor to cells. If ETD were added to this type of systems biology experiment, the number of proteins and phosphorylation sites would increase dramatically, Dr. Jardine says. “ETD moves information about cells to the next level.”

Because few companies offer cell culture media and isotope reagents to perform SILAC experiments, Thermo Scientific rolled out a full suite of SILAC kits at the “American Society for Mass Spectrometry meeting” in June. “A good mass spectrometer to do readouts of SILAC is the LTQ,” says Dr. Jardine, “and now we have the reagents to seamlessly carry out experiments.”

Thermo Scientific’s Dharmacon siRNA product line includes kits that cover the entire human and mouse genome. Although these first-generation siRNA products show good specificity, they also activate unintended genes, Dr. Jardine says. “Dharmacon’s new On-Target Plus™ products greatly reduce off-target problems.”

At the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, researchers recently made a groundbreaking discovery using Thermo Scientific Dharmacon siARRAY® Whole Human Genome collection of siRNA molecules. From among 21,000 genes, they identified 87 genes that increase the susceptibility of human cancer cells to the drug paclitaxel (Taxol). When these genes were blocked, paclitaxel is up to 10,000 times more effective, as described in an April 2007 issue of Nature. The study suggests that by silencing key genes, patients can be treated with lower doses of toxic chemotherapy drugs.

The future looks bright for Thermo Fisher’s siRNA products, Dr. Jardine explains, but problems remain to be solved. One is that siRNA reagents cannot enter all cells.

“We need to solve that problem to expand its utility,” says Dr. Jardine. Moreover, it needs to be seen whether siRNA silences genes in the body. “That’s the next level of research,” he adds.