June 15, 2015 (Vol. 35, No. 12)
By Simplifying Omics-Ready Instrumentation, Waters Means to Enable Personalized Medicine
LC-MS is moving from the research lab to the clinical lab, along with the biomarkers it helps identify. To make this transition, however, the instruments must become user-friendly for clinical lab workers.
“The traditional technology used in clinical labs—immunoassays for example—can’t look effectively at panels of biomarkers that are emerging from the world of proteomics, lipidomics, and genomics. LC-MS does that effectively in research labs, but is too complex today for clinical labs,” says Rohit Khanna, Ph.D., vice president, worldwide marketing, Waters Corporation.
“Investments need to be made in the area of accessibility to make LC-MS more user-friendly. The goal is, for example, to insert a vial of blood and get an answer. Doing that requires technological advancements.”
At Waters’ new mass spectrometry headquarters in Wilmslow, England, scientists demonstrate the capabilities of and develop applications for a new high-performance quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry instrument.
Industry Shift Signals Opportunity
As the industry becomes more varied, with pharmaceutical approaches being joined by health science or personalized medicine approaches, Waters’ technology, Dr. Khanna insists, will be critical to evolving and newly emerging market segments.
Historically, Waters has developed instrumentation to advance therapeutic discovery, development, and manufacturing for small molecules and biomolecules. “Our focus has since shifted to one that balances therapeutics and diagnostics,” Dr. Khanna informs. “Our technological arena—LC-MS, and the sample prep, analytics, chemistries, and consumables to support it—has a lot of room for growth.”
LC-MS will be particularly important for personalized medicine, Dr. Khanna tells GEN. That technology holds value for prevention and screening efforts, as future diagnostic tests will rely on LC-MS to test for panels of biomarkers or blood serum or plasma.
“The next 30 years will continue the shift from a traditional pharmaceutical, therapeutic-based approach to a personalized, pharmacogenomics approach in which physicians can quickly identify the best therapeutics for individual patients,” Dr. Khanna predicts.
Capabilities Also Grow
While Waters increases the user-friendliness of its instruments, making them accessible to more labs, it also is enhancing their capabilities.
“Last year, we launched a health science group, and we have invested in companies and technologies to bring LC-MS into the personalized medicine spectrum,” Dr. Khanna says. That includes acquiring rapid evaporative ionization mass spectrometry (REIMS) from Medimass, a Hungarian company acquired last year, and licensing exclusive rights to desorption electrospray ionization (DESI) for the health science market from Prosolia.
Those two acquisitions led to the March introduction of a direct ionization, full-spectrum molecular imaging system. The first of its kind, it allows enhanced matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization (MALDI), DESI, and ion mobility separation (IMS) on one mass spectrometry platform, directly from a specimen sample.
The system identifies the distribution of large and small molecules within tissue with pinpoint accuracy and also helps researchers identify tissue types based upon their molecular composition. This full-spectrum molecular imaging system won the 2015 Pittcon editor’s silver award for the most innovative product at the conference.
“This has great potential for the pathology world,” Dr. Khanna asserts. Waters also expects its ion mobility mass spectrometry systems, combined with advanced databases, to help integrate the omics disciplines and also to help establish relationships between the human genome and phenome (an organism’s phenotypic traits) to better understand complex diseases.
Informatics is a vital element, too, if LC-MS is to have practical value for clinicians. “Much of the simplicity of a system resides in its software,” Dr. Khanna comments. “Our largest development team is in informatics, much of which is focused around omics and LC-MS. Once researchers identify biomarkers, we must build them into a database with easy-to-use analytics systems that provide answers.” That, he says, is both a challenge and one of Waters’ strengths.
Relationships Are Pivotal
Waters’ relationships with thought leaders throughout the world are vitally important. Professor Jeremy Nicholson, Imperial College London, is among Waters’ key collaborators. He directs Imperial College’s National Phenome Centre, the first of a likely network of phenome centers throughout the world. These centers are intended to develop standard analytical methods and manage and assemble data in ways that can be mined for deeper understanding of biological traits, leading to precision medicine.
This approach is continued in Asia, where Waters works with major thought leaders at research centers and government labs. “This is the same strategy we use throughout the world,” states Dr. Khanna. “Emerging markets need the same things as established markets—suppliers who understand their needs and applications, and who can provide solutions.”
As it is for many companies, Asia is Waters’ fastest-growing market. “Their populations are moving into the middle class,” notes Dr. Khanna, “so their governments are investing more in basic research infrastructure with the intention of becoming leading health science innovators.”
The small molecule pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industry provides some 60% of Waters’ $2 billion in revenues, though the company also is a strong participant in the chemical, food, and environmental industries.
Location: 35 Maple Street, Milford, MA 01757
Phone: (508) 478-2000
Principal: Douglas A. Berthiaume, Chairman, President, and CEO
Number of Employees: 6,000+
Focus: Waters focuses on LC instruments, columns, chemistries, and consumables; MS systems; and thermal analysis and rheometry instruments. These complementary technologies support discovery, operations, and regulatory compliance.