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Agilent Acquisitions Bolster Portfolio of Products

By Johan Bostrom IDG News Service

Aug 15, 2005 | A string of acquisitions is helping Agilent Technologies establish itself as a major player in informatics for analytical laboratories. Its expanding product portfolio has made it a serious player in laboratory analysis automation and software integration.

Industry insiders are paying close attention to how Agilent will integrate its offerings for a market that, analysts agree, has great growth potential. “Our intent is to be the market leader. In doing so, we need to have a complete portfolio for solutions in laboratory informatics,” says Jim Miller, software director for Agilent’s Life Sciences and Chemical Analysis (LSCA) division.

Spun out of Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 1999, Agilent’s recent acquisitions include software firm Silicon Genetics and, most recently, Scientific Software Inc. (SSI) in May. These acquisitions build Agilent’s LSCA division into an informatics provider and are necessary to complete Agilent’s “all-inclusive” research and test platforms in areas such as genomics and proteomics.

For example, Silicon Genetics’ informatics software is necessary to perform the complex studies of gene structure (see “TGen’s Discovery Pipeline in the Desert,” page 24) and functions that form an important part of Agilent’s Integrated Biology Solutions portfolio.

Agilent LSCA customers — including Pfizer, Dupont, and Merck — have generally focused more on automation of sales and marketing activities than computerization of research and development. But the race to bring drugs to the market puts a premium on informatics to enable more efficient research and shorter drug discovery cycles.

Laboratory analysis processes have become faster and more sensitive, and the amount of data that devices produce has escalated dramatically. “It really challenges the software teams to keep up with the tremendous amount of data that comes out of these instruments,” Miller says.

The E Notebook
Customer demand is also guiding Agilent toward its next portfolio addition. The migration toward a paperless environment for laboratory data is an increasingly popular concept. “One of the areas that we are going to be expanding into, either developing it ourselves or looking for partnerships, is the electronic lab notebook (ELN),” Miller acknowledges.

Agilent’s portfolio up to now has been composed of applications that have been integrated for enterprise resource planning, LIMS, and enterprise content management. “The differentiation between lab notebooks and LIMS is starting to gray,” says Michael H. Elliott, founder and president of Atrium Research & Consulting. According to an Atrium study published in April, the potential market for ELNs is $1.2 billion. However, the current ELN market is only $150 million.

Miller declined to present any time frame for Agilent’s ELN project or possible future acquisitions in the area. However, of the market leaders in the ELN industry — CambridgeSoft, Symyx Technologies (see “Symyx System Automates R&D,” page 12), Waters, Elsevier MDL, and Tripos — Waters is the company with the longest history of collaboration with Agilent.

Agilent has a history of collaborating or establishing partnerships with companies it subsequently acquired. Agilent had been working with SSI as a partner for about a year and became the sole distributor of SSI’s Web-based ECM software.

SSI was used to supporting instruments and data file formats from a broad range of companies. This is valuable knowledge in an industry where “open systems” is both a trend and a sales pitch. The concept is to allow software solutions to be integrated with a customer’s IT infrastructure, working within networks with the other applications that the customer has already set up.

Following the SSI acquisition, what kind of strategy will Agilent adopt to handle its broad portfolio of products? “That’s a challenge,” says Miller. “We have people or teams that focus on each element of the portfolio. It’s a matter of scaling the organization to match the strategy.”

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