Urgency is the zeitgeist of the current age. That’s certainly the case at Tecan Group. “Have we as an industry done all we possibly can?” asks Wael Yared, PhD, executive vice president, CTO, and head of global research. The answer, often, is “not quite.” Tecan, therefore, aims to address those unmet needs, developing the tools and technologies to drive scientific discoveries.
From its inception 40 years ago in the barn of a Swiss farmhouse on the shores of Lake Zurich, the company has grown to international stature with operations on three continents and sales and service representatives throughout the world. For many scientists, Tecan is “top of mind” when they think of laboratory automation, liquid handling, detection, and in vitro diagnostics (IVD) systems. According to Yared, Tecan is “uniquely positioned to solve a gamut of application needs from early-stage innovative research into the clinic.”
Building a broad portfolio
As screenings of genomic, proteomic, cellular, and tissue assays have grown in sensitivity, breadth, and sophistication, so have Tecan’s underlying technology portfolio and product lines. The company has built an array of differentiated technologies for the handling and analysis of bioanalytes, ranging from advanced robotics and fluidics to software, reagents, and smart consumables.
The company’s commercial offerings are built around two areas: life sciences and IVD/partnering. “In the life sciences, we work with innovators in early phases of technology development and adoption,” Yared explains. “Through our IVD/partnering business, we scale these technologies, platforms, and quality/regulatory processes to bring them into the clinic.” An IVD/partnering example cited by Yared is Tecan’s partnership with Thermo Fisher on the Amplitude system for automated, rapid high-throughput molecular testing for COVID-19.
“Genomic needs in precision and personalized medicine, companion diagnostics, and fast and sensitive multiplexed assays are a big growth driver,” Yared notes, along with sample preparation assays for the analysis of proteins using mass spectrometry.
One of Tecan’s emerging strengths, Yared asserts, is the company’s portfolio of Spark® and Spark® Cyto detection and imaging solutions. These solutions may be applied to biochemical, cell, and tissue assays. “We expect to grow that aggressively,” Yared insists.
A rationale driving researchers and clinical partners toward Tecan is the company’s overarching integration of modular hardware and software building blocks across a variety of end applications. The company has pioneered the development and deployment of sophisticated architectures and libraries that can be configured rapidly and optimized for specific use cases.
During the past several years, digitalization has become an important theme across the industry, and is one that Tecan embraces. “Digitalization of every facet of user experience is an area of increased focus,” Yared comments. “We’re harmonizing information flows across digitally connected laboratories that have open ecosystems. Laboratories are generating data using complex and demanding workflows, and we seek to digitalize everything from setting up and monitoring experiments, through generating predictive analytics and digitalizing instrument service.”
“Informatics is not best exploited in isolation,” he stresses. Instead, it is most effective as part of a complete, end-to-end solution. The informatics package should deliver the data management and connectivity tools required to handle a range of offerings from the component and subsystem level to the entire platform, to managing a fleet of systems on a global scale, and thus generate deep analysis to improve operational efficiency. Yared notes, “It’s a much more powerful proposition to develop the components as a part of a whole.”
Addressing pain points
Tecan is working with its partners on novel solutions to address pain points in research, drug discovery and development, and clinical diagnostics, including solutions for liquid and solid-tissue biopsy samples. “Some of these are among our most exciting projects,” Yared relates. Ultimately, such integrated solutions are expected to combine genomic test information with other profiling assays, such as protein expression.
“In genomics, we see growing needs in handling small volume samples and preparing libraries, especially when derived from challenging clinical samples,” Yared says. Tecan is working to extend its genomic extraction and library preparation offerings. These include DreamPrep™ NGS with ancillary modules as well as standalone solutions.
“In proteomics, the ability to extract insights from mass spectrometry rests on the ability to purify samples, separating them from background noise,” Yared notes. “We have a number of standalone offerings, and we are working on several fully integrated solutions.” Yared predicts that a steady stream of products will be introduced throughout 2021 and 2022.
Growing with customers
According to Yared, Tecan’s history of continual innovation and expansion is possible because of synergy with its customers. “We’re in an enviable position,” he claims. “We take advantage of the fact that we’re privileged to work with innovators at the very early stages of technology development as well as collaborate with clinical solution providers.”
“It’s a synergistic cycle,” Yared continues. “The fundamentals of cell and tissue biology trigger the development of new platforms to answer complex questions.” These techniques, in turn, lead to new, even more complex queries. “This cycle has accelerated in the past five years, with increasingly sensitive and powerful tools that benefit from high throughput automation,” he adds. “We’re leveraging our skill set to build them.”
That growth in the industry has resulted in dynamic growth for Tecan, too. In December, the company updated its forecast for growth in sales from a percentage in the single digits to one in the low to mid-teens. During the first half of 2020 (the most recent report), partly as a result of COVID-19, sales increased 8% and order entries increased 24.3%. The net profit reported in the first half of 2020 rose by 42.2% to CHF 36 million. (During that period, the Swiss franc/U.S. dollar exchange rate rose from 1.03 CHF/USD to 1.06 CHF/USD.) Bloomberg reported that the company’s stock price experienced a one-year return of approximately 52% (as of December 22).
Realizing new perfections
“We plan to capitalize on our investments, building Tecan into a leading position in genomics, protein workflow, and cell and tissue biology,” Yared declares. “Ultimately, [we will combine] genomics testing information and assays like protein expression for single cells or subsets of cells.”
These words suggest that Tecan is committed to the realization of “multi-omics” technology. While working on multi-omics, Tecan will no doubt have many opportunities to exercise its perfection-seeking ways, that is, its dedication to continual innovation. By placing unreasonable demands on itself, Tecan intends to make multi-omics practical for its customers and the industry at large.