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Bringing separations together
COLUMBIA, Md.—Following a flurry of acquisitions over the course of the last decade, Grace Davison, an operating segment of W.R. Grace & Co., all but vanished from public view. Retreating behind closed doors to put the pieces of its acquisition together and build its separations business, many life sciences researchers wondered what the 150-year old company was up to. When recent conference seasons began, they finally got their answer in the form of Reveleris, a flash chromatography system demonstrated by Grace at many exhibit halls.
For Grace Davison's global biotechnology and pharmaceutical customers, Reveleris addressed an unmet need in the marketplace—the streamlining of purifications of mixtures during the design and synthesis of promising new chemical entities. But for Grace Davison, the system was the culmination of several strategic acquisitions made with the intention of broadening the company's offering of liquid and gas chromatography columns, media, systems and packing services.
Grace Davison's history began in 1832 when William T. Davison, an Irish immigrant, founded the company. For many years, Grace supplied high-quality silica gel to the chromatography industry. Building on that core competency, Grace Davison Discovery Sciences was founded to manufacture differentiated media for SPE, Flash, HPLC and Process chromatography.
"W.R. Grace has gone through quite a transformation in its 150-year history," says Michael Early, director of marketing for Grace Davison Discovery Sciences. "For years, Grace has been supplying most of the chromatography marketplace with materials, so all of the chromatography companies knew Grace, but none of their customers did. The acquisitions we made were an attempt by Grace to move up in this value proposition. Now we're in the forefront, moving beyond silica, developing and delivering innovative complementary products direct to the customer."
It took several acquisitions to accomplish this goal, with each company contributing its expertise to Grace's new strategy to build its separations business. The acquisition of the Jones Chromatography HPLC product line from Argonaut Technologies Inc., in 2003 brought additional adsorbent technologies. The same year, the acquisition of MODcol Corp., developed its business on the basis of technology leadership in the packing of large-diameter high-performance preparative columns.
In 2004, the company acquired Alltech International Holdings Inc., a global manufacturer and supplier of chromatography products, and Alltech ELSD instruments, headquartered in Deerfield, Ill.; and Grom Analytik + HPLC GmbH, a manufacturer of HPLC columns and provider of packing application services for analytical and preparative chromatography located in Rottenburg-Halfingen, Germany.
In 2005, Grace acquired Flexit Laboratories Pvt. Ltd., a manufacturer and supplier of chromatography products headquartered in Pune, India. In 2001, the company acquired The Separations Group, a manufacturer of chromatography columns and separation media—many of which were marketed under the Vydac brand name—in Hesperia, Calif.
The result of these deals and Grace's combined decades of experience in silica gel manufacturing and light scattering technology development is Reveleris, which Grace first exhibited publicly at PittCon in 2009. The Reveleris system departs from current flash chromatography technology by combining traditional ultraviolet (UV) detection with evaporative light scattering detection (ELSD) to detect compounds that would have been missed by UV alone. The RevealX technology simultaneously processes multiple detector signals and generates information about sample composition, purity and mass; competitive systems require additional steps. It identifies impurities and target compounds other systems miss thanks to the combined UV and ELSD detection.
According to Grace, the Reveleris system surmounts the challenges of splitting fluidics and signal integration in a system that meets the space, safety and ergonomic constraints of today's labs. The company touts the fully integrated instrument as one which provides the chemist with quantitative and qualitative information that was previously impossible to obtain on a single system in a single experiment.
"A lot of people in the marketplace were quite familiar with Grace and all of our acquisitions, but this was the first time Grace exhibited publicly under the Grace Davison Discovery Sciences brand," Early says. "A scientist walked up to the Grace booth where we had all of our new branding and product, and commented, 'wow, it is about time you pulled it all together. Everyone has been waiting for this.' With almost a sigh of relief, he said, 'it all makes sense now.'"
Since then, Grace has received overwhelmingly positive feedback at other industry shows where the company has demonstrated Reveleris, Early says. In July, the company announced that it received a 2009 R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine in recognition of its technological achievement.
"As someone who has been in this business for 15 years, I have actually reached a lot of firsts with this product launch," Early says. "After we ran a series of ads in trade publications, we saw scientists walking into our exhibit booth at shows, pointing to the ad and saying, 'if everything that is said here is true, I have to see this instrument and a demonstration.' We have been able to measure direct ROI on print ad placement, e-mails, phone calls and trade show interaction. So in terms of customer confirmation, we are very pleased because we have been very successful there."
Because of that success, Grace feels "really bullish" and is seeking ways to build on its newfound position in the market, Early says.
"This is really a long time coming," he says. "If you look at the drug discovery market segment, Grace is now in a position to offer not just a single product at a single point, but our portfolio is now very synergistic with the drug discovery marketplace. Grace is looking at the Discovery Sciences division as a high-growth business, so we are very focused on future opportunities."