Tuesday, March 10, 2020

This Time ThermoFisher Catches QIAGEN

This past fall there was a rumor that QIAGEN was being pursued by an acquirer, with the initial tip being scientific conglomerate ThermoFisher but then other possibilities floated by.  QIAGEN was seen as ripe for such an action as their long-time CEO had stepped down.  QIAGEN made a very public announcement that they would continue independently under their new CEO, but that is no longer the case: ThermoFisher will acquire them, pending regulatory approvals, for something around 11.5B

If I had a stable of research assistants I'd set one now on working out the complete family tree of both companies; my guess is this would have 100 or more nodes in it.  QIAGEN had started with just nucleic acid prep kits, but had expanded via both internal growth and multiple acquisitions to become a major player in nucleic acid operations.  Their effort to build a vertically integrated sample to answer sequencing system meant they gobbled Kapa and Enzymatics for reagents, Intelligent Biosystems for a sequencing platform, CLC for data processing and companies such as N-of-One, Biobase and Ingenuity for downstream analysis. Acquiring Mobio enhanced their sample prep platform.  QIAGEN was also active acquiring other clinical assay developers, such as Ipsogen, Cellestis, PrimeraDx, STAT-Dx, Exiqon, and AmniSure. AllSeq's handy NGS Necropolis also mentions Biotage, which developed pyrosequencing; acquired by QIAGEN but rights to technology sold to 454.   CrunchBase Pro would give me even more -- 26 total -- if I ponied up some serious dollars -- though the Wikipedia entry and my memory were useful for these as well.  There were also purchases of pieces of companies; the soon-to-launch digital PCR product line is based on assets acquired from Formulatrix

But that's chicken feed compared to ThermoFisher, which has many storied names in its lineage.  Indeed, if you browse their ginormous catalog many of the brand names have been retained.  Direct acquisitions include Life Technologies, Affymetrix, Alfa Aesar and Patheon.  But both Life Tech and Affy were themselves major acquirers.  Per Wikipedia, Life Tech was from the merger of early reagent houses BRL and GIBCO and then was acquired by Invitrogen but the Life Tech moniker was kept.  Life Tech had purchased sequencing technology developers VisiGen, Ion Torrent and Agencourt Personal Genomics and probably a few I'm forgetting that never made it to market.  Invitrogen was a known serial acquirer of small reagent shops, with Research Genetics the most famous since it was large, located in a converted chain motel and the proceeds of its sale funded HudsonAlpha.  Somewhere in there the Applera/Applied Biosystems lineage fits in (where's an unpaid research assistant when I need one!).  Other once independent companies now as brands are early gene synthesis shop GeneArt, siRNA provider Ambion and magnetic bead mavens Dynal.  
Within the fold are Life Technologies, Ion Torrent and Applied Biosystems.  Plus Affymetrix was no slouch in the M&A arena, with Wikipedia listing Genetic MicroSystems, Neomorphic, ParAllele, reagent house USB, Panomics, and eBiosciences.  Probably if I had spent the last three decades in the lab I could rattle off other brands that were vacuumed up by ThermoFisher or its various ravenous predecessors.

The acquisition requires regulatory approval, but stock analysts aren't expecting much headwinds there, with perhaps selling off specific product lines to other companies in this still crowded space.  One area of concentration that has been identified is forensic analysis of DNA, where the merger would apparently result in a duopoly.  There's also overlap in some DNA purification reagents and in robots -- I wouldn't be shocked if the KingFisher robot is shed as the QIACube and QIASymphony appear to be much more popular.  Again, perhaps if I routinely ordered reagents other overlaps would be obvious -- but many of those have many competitors.  Another great task for the unpaid interns: research and compute the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index for all the overlapping product areas.  Or some lab interns to express that as a protein, since only the X in index isn't a specific standard IUPAC amino acid symbol.

ThermoFisher does gain yet another sequencing technology, GeneReader, that couldn't break the big leagues.  This joins Ion Torrent and SOLiD along with the never launched StarLink technology from Visigen and the legacy Sanger product line inherited from ABI

Simply removing one big player in the reagents market is certainly news of interest to any smaller shops looking for partners or to be acquired -- one fewer opportunity.  Luckily, there is a regular supply of new companies that have stormed into the middle ranks.  For example, even with the recent broad market plunges 10X Genomics has over $6B in market cap.  Let's hope that trend continues, as big companies partnering and acquiring startups is an important part of the startup life cycle.

[2020-03-10 10:04 -- as pointed out by a commenter, Kapa is Roche not QIAGEN -- yet another reminder I need a fact checker]


Lutz said...

Kapa was purchased by Roche.

rcrosado said...

Good overview! Will be interesting to see if you're right about shedding the Kingfisher. I definitely agree that it isn't as popular, but there's a lot interconnections between other Thermo Fisher brands, and it's being actively promoted for automation of cfNa isolation in connection with the newest Oncomine liquid biopsy assays.

Anonymous said...

I'd be careful in taking Wall Street analysts' views on HSR clearance into consideration. After all, they were quite bullish on the ILMN:PACB merger. That one didn't work out so well.

QIAGEN and Thermo present a significant concentration of two major research consumables markets: Sample Processing and Assays. QIAGEN is the undisputed Sample Processing company with >50% share of the "kitted" purification market. Thermo is a strong player, with an estimated #3 position. On the Assay side, Thermo is the definitive market leader in PCR/RT-PCR/qPCR/etc. QIAGEN is estimated to be #3 or #4, depending on the market survey you read.

Have no doubt, the competition and concerned customers will be quite vocal opponents of this deal. It will be hard to argue this deal benefits the market as pricing will not go down and the choice will be limited as this is a large a consolidation play