Fasha Mahjoor, an architect, founded Phenomenex (www.phenomenex.com) 25 years ago when architectural jobs were hard to come by. His mission was to distribute chromatography columns that were manufactured by a chemist friend in the U.K. “Most companies start with a technology then move to sales. We started with sales of high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) columns, then discovered new technologies that customers told us they wanted,” says Mahjoor, CEO of Phenomenex.
Dedicated to Consumables
Chemists have long used the company’s HPLC columns to separate small molecule drugs, according to Mahjoor. In sales of both gas chromatography (GC) and solid-phase extraction (SPE) columns, Phenomenex is one of the leading players, he adds. The company’s major competitors also make chromatography instruments, but Phenomenex focuses only on developing columns and consumables, emphasizes Jason Campbell, senior marketing manager. “Our livelihood depends one hundred percent on making consumables of the highest quality,” he says.
Phenomenex began manufacturing HPLC columns in 1984 and launched the Luna® product line in 1996. “Luna columns were the first silica-based HPLC columns to remain stable up to pH 10,” notes Campbell. “The Luna platform was the company’s first real foray into new technology and it set a precedent that to drive growth, we have to continue to make leaps in technology.”
Another novel technology based on synthetic polymers led to SPE products such as strata-X(TM), another leap beyond largely silica-based SPE technologies. strata-X can be used to extract peptides from serum, detect pesticides in environmental samples, find contaminants like acrylamide in food, or identify drugs in blood samples.
Even in GC, an established technology that sees few innovations, Campbell reports that Phenomenex recently released a column called Zebron Inferno(TM), which endures temperatures up to 430ºC. Standard GC columns, he says, crumble at temperatures above 380ºC. “An improved polyimide coating protects Zebron columns from high temperatures, making them ideal for measuring contaminants in biopharmaceuticals, foods, beverages, and biodiesel products.”
The addition of GC and SPE products allows Phenomenex to serve life science customers including those working in biotechnology, forensics, clinical diagnostics, toxicology, environmental science, food technology, fragrance, and natural products. “Anywhere that separation chemistry methods are needed, we have a presence,” says Campbell.
Among the products geared for biotech customers are EZ:faast® kits, which provide reagents and supplies for identifying and quantifying 50 amino acids and dipeptides in eight steps. EZ:faast covers sample prep and analysis, and the entire process takes 15 minutes, Campbell adds.
Originally marketed to clinical clients, EZ:faast proved useful for monitoring fermentation changes in the food and beverage industry as well. Similar fermentation processes occur in the manufacturing of biotherapeutics such as mAbs where the depletion of key amino acids can reduce batch yields.
Suggestions from customers led to the creation of Clarity® QSP (quick, simple, pure) for synthetic oligonucleotide purification. “Customers told us that they wanted to produce larger quantities of purified oligos, so the purification process became as important as the synthesis,” says Cathy Cordova, bioseparations brand manager.
Clarity QSP delivers nearly impurity-free, concentrated, full-length oligo sequences in a stable media suitable for in vivo applications or downstream HPLC, mass spectrometry, and nuclear magnetic resonance analysis, Cordova reports. “The process can be readily automated for high-throughput parallel purification or combinatorial purifications,” she adds. The Clarity technology will move oligo manufacturing to the next level to satisfy customers who need large quantities of oligos of high purity with a fast turnaround time such as antisense compounds for clinical trials, Cordova claims.
An older product line, the Jupiter HPLC column, is seeing new life in proteomics for characterizing and purifying proteins. “It’s a good workhorse for people [researching or manufacturing] large proteins and peptides,” notes Cordova. “The Jupiter column operates at a high pH limit, making it ideal for [applications with] proteins. Jupiter also works well for characterizing pegylated proteins, a common modification for extending the half-life of biotherapeutics.” Product enhancements are under way to improve the Jupiter line for the purification and separation of biomolecules.
To better serve customers Phenomenex now exclusively distributes Beckman Coulter’s (www.beckmancoulter.com) ProteomeLab™ IgY enrichment products for proteomics and biomarker discovery. Highly abundant proteins mask potential markers and slow the discovery of biomarkers. ProteomeLab IgY-12 columns remove 12 highly abundant human proteins, allowing researchers to dig deeper into the proteome to find biomarkers, explains Cordova.
“We’re looking for more collaborations like this where we can work closely with life science researchers to learn their consumable needs,” she says. Biomarker discovery also is a key area for R&D efforts at Phenomenex.
Since its conception in 1982, Phenomenex has been profitable, and sales are projected to reach well over $100 million for 2007. The company reinvests about 10% of revenue into R&D to expand product portfolios and leverage core technology platforms into new markets.
“The industry is screaming for better purification methods and analysis tools,” says Michael McGinley, biochromatography product manager. “Phenomenex strives to improve current products through novel surface and chromatographic chemistries to find better solutions for separating biomolecules.”