Acquisitions and mergers take centre stage

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In this final review of 2003, Phillip Hill looks at the collaborations and concentrations that have taken place in the LIMS market this year

Although Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) have not been around for very many years (the first commercial LIMS started appearing in the 1980s), there are clear signs that this has become a mature market. One indicator is the number of collaborations and agreements between what are now relatively large companies. Rationalisations in the field of product development are sure signs that competition is hotting up, and that the market may be able to support only a restricted number of new products and new systems. One of the most important developments this year was InnaPhase's acquisition of Beckman Coulter's Laboratory Automation Operations (LAO). The deal was announced in May and created what is claimed to be the world's largest LIMS provider.

Since pioneering the first commercial LIMS in 1979, Beckman Coulter's Laboratory Automation Operations have been a leading provider of LIMS used for the collection and management of data in pharmaceutical research and development processes. The acquisition expands InnaPhase Corporation's portfolio of pharmaceutical solutions and catapults InnaPhase to one of the largest LIMS vendors in the world. InnaPhase now services more pharmaceutical accounts than all other LIMS vendors combined, the company says.

The transaction is also an important element of InnaPhase's pharmaceutical enterprise software strategy. Pharmaceutical accounts represent more than half of the LAO user base; the market norm for other LIMS vendors is around 17 per cent. InnaPhase is one of the few LIMS vendors that develop LIMS solutions vertically, specifically for markets such as the pharmaceutical industry. In 2004, InnaPhase Corporation will release Thompson for non-pharmaceutical users.

'When we made the decision to divest this business, we placed great importance in finding a partner who would ensure a secure future for our customers,' said James Harris, vice president/director of Beckman Coulter's Biomedical Research Division. 'We performed an extensive search, and determined that InnaPhase was that company.'

The Beckman Coulter's LAO systems are installed in over 1,600 laboratories worldwide and are integrated with other enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs) such as SAP, SSA BPCS, Maracm Prism, Documentum, and MFG Pro. The vast majority of these installations are in the pharmaceutical industry.

Another move involves Thermo Electron, which has acquired Laboratory Management Systems, Inc. (LMSi) of Delaware, US. LMSi is a supplier of regulatory instrument and consulting services to the pharmaceutical and related industries, and generated revenues of $11 million during 2003. In its nine-year history, it was included three times on Inc. magazine's annual 'Inc. 500' list of America's fastest-growing private companies.

LMSi specialises in performing instrument and computer systems validation, metrology, and certification, as well as a range of associated consulting services. The company has developed a broad portfolio of analytical instrument validation protocols and operating procedures that enable laboratories to comply with US Food and Drug Administration requirements.

'This acquisition is an important step in our strategy to offer customers comprehensive laboratory solutions that include full product support, for almost any instrument, anywhere,' says Marijn E. Dekkers, president and chief executive officer of Thermo Electron. 'Adding LMSi's regulatory and compliance expertise to our global laboratory service network will allow us to be a regulatory validation and consulting partner to customers who face increasing productivity, quality, and regulatory challenges.'

Thermo Electron has also announced that it has expanded its relationship with IBM to offer Thermo's LIMS expertise with IBM's eServer system architecture. An intensive cycle of system testing was recently performed on Nautilus and SampleManager LIMS, running on an IBM eServer xSeries 235. More than 19,000 individual tests were performed using a combination of automated and manual scripts. IBM hardware is now an integral part of Thermo's LIMS testing environment.

Commenting on the new collaboration, Scott Jenkins, IBM's life sciences devices and diagnostics segment executive, says: 'Our organisations share an equally strong commitment to serving the life and laboratory science community with innovative and practical solutions to their business problems. Thermo's LIMS products and its domain expertise, supported by IBM's hardware architecture, represents a powerful combination.'

In the late summer, Thermo Electron began shipping Nautilus 2003 Release 1, the latest version of its LIMS, updated to operate on the Oracle 9i database. The most significant changes over previous versions relate to Result Entry and Auditing. There is now more flexibility in result entry, and barcode navigation has been simplified. Audit tables of, for example, instrument or operator records can be displayed in a hierarchy.

The company has also released Sample Manager IDI 2003, the latest generation of software integrating SampleManager LIMS and SAP AG's R/3 Enterprise, the Enterprise Resource Planning system. Combining Thermo's flagship LIMS with SAP AG's R/3 Enterprise gives customers an enhanced ability to provide consistent quality-related information to the entire enterprise. To benefit from modern ERP systems, companies need automated access to all aspects of their business, including the process laboratory. SampleManager IDI was the first LIMS interface to be certified by SAP that addresses the needs of large-scale production facilities.

Labtronics Inc has also been exploring the area of connecting the laboratory with SAP and has released a new SAP Interface Module that works in conjunction with all three of Labtronics' premier interfacing solutions - LimsLink, LimsLinkCDS and NEXXIS. When implemented with either LimsLink or LimsLinkCDS, the SAP Interface Module makes full use of those applications extensive capabilities for interacting with instruments, instrument data systems and LIMS. With NEXXIS, users can automate and enforce all aspects of their Standard Operating Procedures including data collection from RS232 instruments.

LabVantage Solutions of New Jersey, US, and Scientific Software of California have announced a 'broad strategic relationship' that will provide customers using Scientific Software's CyberLAB Knowledge Engineering System (KES), and LabVantage's Sapphire LIMS, with the industry's first completely integrated software solution between an enterprise LIMS solution, and a long-term data archival and retrieval solution.

'This strategic relationship is an important first step in providing companies with a seamless solution from independent best-of-breed solution providers,' says Dr Soheil Saadat, president and CEO of Scientific Software. 'Customers looking for a smart, integrated solution bridging LIMS, long-term data archiving, and chromatography data systems will find our complete solution to be unmatchable in its functional richness.'

'The integration of CyberLAB and Sapphire LIMS is a major first step in meeting the needs of today's corporation, which is looking for ways to increase the fundamental value of their licensed software solutions for discovery and product life cycle management,' says Jim Aurelio, president and CEO of LabVantage Solutions. 'This strategic relationship between Scientific Software and LabVantage is a vital leadership statement, which our enterprise clients have been looking for us to make.'

Applied Biosystems is pursuing a different sort of integration. Together with the genomics company Celera, it is part of the Applera Corporation and the two sides of the business are coming together to promote 'integrated science', uniting technology, informatics, and traditional laboratory research. As set out by Dr Peter Boogaard, the company's senior manager for pharmaceutical business development at the recent World Pharma IT Congress in London, the company's vision in pursuing 'i-science' goes far beyond extending its SQL*LIMS system out of the QA/QC testing lab into the discovery and research sides of the pharmaceutical industry.

As well as LIMS, Applera's Applied Biosystems Group produces scientific instruments, and their associated software, reagents and consumables. The focus of the Celera Genomics group is on the discovery and development of new therapeutics. Its Celera Discovery System (CDS) online platform is marketed exclusively through the Applied Biosystems group's Knowledge Business, as an integrated source of information based on the human genome and other biological and medical sources. But, like LIMS, the CDS is only part of the integrated science offering from Applied Biosystems: other components include reagents and assays, instruments, and an improved online portal, for support and ordering assays and equipment.

Finally, in this round-up of the most important deals, Mettler-Toledo has announced a new partnership with Labtronics to provide users of the Mettler-Toledo LabX system with a new LabX-to-LIMS integration solution. Using LimsLink, the industry standard for instrument to LIMS interfacing, Mettler-Toledo customers can now configure a secure, fileless interface between their LabX application and their LIMS.

Tom Butta, software solutions business manager at Mettler-Toledo comments: 'As the leader in the LIMS integration market, Labtronics' LimsLink software combined with the expertise of Labtronics' professional services provides tremendous added value for our customers who desire a turn-key LabX-LIMS integration solution.'

Robert Pavlis, president of Labtronics adds: 'This new integration partnership is a prime example of a trend that we are seeing in the industry where two leading companies, with a complementary business focus, form an alliance that truly benefits the end user community.'

To conclude on a rather different note, the UK based company, Process Analysis and Automation, has released an add-in for Microsoft Excel enabling full compliance with 21 CFR Part 11: Solution11 XL. Solution11 XL has all the features, required by the FDA rule, to generate fully compliant spreadsheets: encrypted audit trail; secure user access control; electronic signature; total document security; and in addition, it can convert legacy documents into validated documents.