Blue Heron Biotechnology Inc., a pioneer in the gene synthesis market, recently entered into a business relationship with Invitrogen Corp. that will give it a major presence on the world stage — as well as opportunities for new product development.
In December, Bothell-based Blue Heron struck a strategic development and distribution deal with the Carlsbad, Calif.-based life sciences company, which employs more than 4,500 people and does business in more than 70 countries. In 2005, Invitrogen had revenues of more than $1.2 billion.
Under terms of the agreement, Invitrogen will invest in Blue Heron in exchange for exclusive worldwide rights to distribute Blue Heron’s custom gene synthesis services. The companies also will co-develop new products and services for the research and biopharmaceutical markets, according to Invitrogen.
The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
“Invitrogen recognizes the tremendous new possibilities that gene synthesis offers life science researchers,” said Nathan Wood, Invitrogen’s vice president of cloning and protein expression. “We have developed a broad array of products that complement Blue Heron’s GeneMaker platform, and this agreement continues to enhance our portfolio offerings to our customers.”
Likewise, Blue Heron is excited about the relationship with Invitrogen “for more than the obvious observation that we now become the only gene synthesis company with worldwide, world-class distribution,” John Fess, Blue Heron’s chief executive, said via e-mail. “Invitrogen has an unmatched perspective on the universe of research efforts and customer needs, which is very valuable in Blue Heron’s ongoing process of R-and-D project selection and emphasis.
“As well, Invitrogen has a wide array of in-house technologies that may become the basis for extended, or entirely new, products and services,” he said.
Founded in 1999, Blue Heron became a leader in the gene synthesis market with the 2001 launch of its GeneMaker platform, enabling it to create and sell DNA sequences. Since then, the company has built a customer base of researchers from pharmaceutical and biotech companies as well as academic and governmental laboratories.
“Our customer base has grown steadily over the past five years and now numbers in the thousands, and I think this is strong evidence that we have adapted and grown along with the market as market needs have evolved,” Fess said.
During that same period other, marginal, “players” have exited the gene synthesis market as prices have fallen “to something on the order of one-tenth of their original levels,” he noted.
“It takes a lot of talent to stay ahead of that curve, and Blue Heron has done just that, and, in the process, has developed an impressive array of tools, techniques, processes and other IP that I would like to see leveraged to the fullest extent possible,” Fess said. “That may result in new manufacturing methodologies, new products or a combination.”
To that end, Fess recently was promoted from chief operating officer to chief executive officer, succeeding Blue Heron founder John Mulligan, who as the company’s chairman and chief scientific officer, will be able to focus exclusively on further research and development.