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Agilent’s Latest Acquisition in the Cell Analysis Space: BioTek Instruments

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Agilent Technologies Inc. recently announced it had signed an agreement to acquire BioTek Instruments, a global leader in life science instrumentation. BioTek design, manufacture and distribute a wide array of products, including cell imaging systems, microplate readers, washers, dispensers and automated incubators and stackers.

The acquisition adds to Agilent's portfolio in the cell analysis space, having previously acquired Seahorse Biosciences in 2015, followed by Luxcel Biosciences and ACEA Biosciences in 2018.

We spoke with Jacob Thaysen, Senior Vice President and President, Life Sciences and Applied Markets Group, Agilent, to learn more about the background of the acquisition, how it complements Agilent's other acquisitions and the cell analysis applications set to benefit from an increased product portfolio.

Molly Campbell (MC): This is the latest in a number of acquisitions Agilent have made in the cell analysis space, what does the BioTek acquisition provide for Agilent’s cell analysis capabilities?

Jacob Thaysen (JT): Some years ago, we identified the cell analysis space, and especially the live cell analysis space, as a strategic opportunity for Agilent. With our already deep connection to immuno-oncology through clinical diagnostics with our Dako brand, where we collaborate with pharmaceutical companies in immuno-oncology, we could see that cell analysis would have a revival and that the understanding of the immune system and immunology would really drive cell analysis going forward.

That's why Agilent decided to build up a business in this space. The first step of doing this was the acquisition of Seahorse that gave us a very different product portfolio mainly within cell metabolism The second acquisition was Luxcel which provided us with probes that actually work very well with the BioTek technology. We could see that the next step for us was acquiring ACEA which had a very nicely developed flow cytometry technology – this is very important for phenotypically understanding cells. Also, what ACEA had done compared to many competitors was to build an ease of use flow cytometry platform that could be taken into the decentralized lab where a lot of the cell analysis work takes place.

Finally, we could see that we needed a company like BioTek that had a very strong presence in the market already having experience with the technologies for several years in different applications, but also that had the imaging capabilities for live cells. The combination of Seahorse, ACEA and also different types of live cell measurements through BioTek has provided Agilent with a lot of technologies required for a better understanding of live cells and how they are impacted when you expose them to different environments, different types of drugs and so on. This is very important, especially in the area of CAR-T therapy where you are extracting and modifying T cells outside of the body before injecting them back in the body. In order to target specific cancers, there needs to be a lot of understanding of how to select the right cells, understanding the potency and characterizing the cells. We can now combine workflows from the different modalities of the technology to address the challenges that exist in that space.

MC: How does this compliment Agilent’s other acquisitions in the cell analysis space? (Seahorse Bioscience, ACEA Biosciences and Luxcel Biosciences).

JT: I would like to emphasize what the opportunity is here. Agilent know BioTek very well. We know the CEO well through our experiences in the industry, we also know the company very well as we have had co-development work over the past 18 months to combine the Seahorse technology with the BioTek technology. This was a successful collaboration not only in terms of marketing but also in the fact that both companies saw an increase in business within that space. We believe we can do something very different using technologies across Agilent and BioTek by combining software and workflows to go out there and look at cells from many different angles, providing a much deeper insight for scientists.

MC: What cell analysis applications in particular do you envision benefitting from this acquisition?

JT: I think that first and foremost it is going to be immuno-oncology, and particularly what we usually coin as "CAR-T" (but what actually comes in many different flavors) – the idea of taking your cells out of the body, modifying them and reintroducing them back into the body to fight disease. This workflow requires a lot of understanding of cell biology and I believe that this will be the first application that we will look to address through the acquisition.

I do believe that, fundamentally, live cell analysis is going to revitalize our understanding of cells and thereby the immune system. I believe that we will be a key player in live cell analysis and addressing many of the questions that remain in immunology, particularly cancer immunology.

MC: In a recent news you are quoted as saying: "This positions Agilent well in the large and growing immuno-oncology and immunotherapy markets” – with the BioTek acquisition do you believe that you now have the full capabilities to meet the needs of these markets?

Yes, I do. The cell analysis space is close to my heart. I was previously running the diagnostic and genomics group in Agilent which oversees our Dako diagnostic and genomics business. With our Dako brand, we have been working with pharmaceutical companies such as Merck and BMS to develop the diagnostic kit for immuno-oncology drugs, so we are already very deep into the immuno-oncology space. Clearly, we are now able to move into CAR-T cells. I think that we already have one of the most comprehensive portfolios in the space but there are still further opportunities to advance. We will now spend time to fully integrate, develop and drive the opportunities we have with BioTek, ASEA, Seahorse and Luxcel, where we can definitely take advantage of our position in the market space.

Jacob Thaysen was speaking with Molly Campbell, Science Writer, Technology Networks.