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Bio-Rad Jumps into Digital PCR Space with $162M QuantaLife Buy

Bio-Rad's $162 million acquisition of digital PCR shop QuantaLife, announced yesterday, is expected to complement and expand Bio-Rad's existing PCR and quantitative real-time PCR portfolio, and may provide the company with an additional feather in its cap as it moves into the molecular diagnostics arena, a company executive said this week.

And, according to at least one industry analyst, the "atypical" acquisition for historically "conservative and risk-averse" Bio-Rad provides the company entrée into a digital PCR market expected to exceed $100 million annually within three years.

The acquisition also gives Bio-Rad the first commercially available emulsion microdroplet-based technology for digital PCR, QuantaLife's recently launched Droplet Digital PCR system, to compete with currently marketed microfluidics-based commercial dPCR platforms from Fluidigm and Life Technologies. Another potential competitor is RainDance Technologies, which shares some emulsion PCR IP with QuantaLife and is targeting early 2012 for a digital PCR platform launch.

Brad Crutchfield, group vice president of life sciences at Bio-Rad, said that the company sees QuantaLife and its digital PCR technology as "very important toward expanding" its position in qPCR and PCR in general.

"We do not see [digital PCR] necessarily as a direct alternative to qPCR," Crutchfield said. "Over time we will see people shift to that. But we see it now moving [Bio-Rad] into a broader spectrum of applications and, in a sense, expanding our market capability.

QuantaLife announced the full commercial launch of the Droplet Digital PCR system in late June after having beta-tested the system since late 2010. The system, which sells for approximately $50,000, comprises a droplet generator that divides each biological sample to be tested into 20,000 1-nL droplets that can then be transferred to well plates and amplified using qPCR.

The system also has a separate droplet reader, where the droplets are streamed past a two-color fluorescence detector that reads each droplet as either positive or negative for target nucleic acid molecules; as well as dedicated analysis software.

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