LC-TOF Mass Spectrometry

An overlooked segment of the MS market is time-of-flight (TOF) LC/MS, which will exceed $80 million in sales in 2009, excluding the much larger Q-TOF MS market. Although LC-TOF MS does not posses many of the capabilities of more expensive MS techniques, it fills an important price-to-performance segment of the market, and has the potential for use in a wide range of applications. There are currently at least five major instrument vendors competing for market share.

LC-TOF MS is incapable of using ion dissociation techniques or conducting MS/MS experiments; therefore, it is not useful for sequencing or structural analyses. However, the use of a TOF mass analyzer allows for a high mass range, speed and resolution. These factors make LC-TOF MS useful for analyzing large molecules, working with fast HPLC systems and picking out compounds in complex matrices. The use of a TOF mass analyzer addresses a wider breadth of larger molecule applications when combined with HPLC, in contrast to GC-TOF MS, due to the limited volatility of such compounds. Although LC-TOF MS instruments have been on the market for some time, technology has trickled down from high-end Q-TOF and MALDI-TOF MS instruments into the development of more recently introduced LC-TOF MS models. These advancements, combined with a price point that can be hundreds of thousands of dollars less than other TOF MS instruments, puts LC-TOF MS in a favorable price-to-performance position.

Although not as large an end-market for LC-TOF MS compared to other MS techniques, pharmaceuticals still accounts for the largest demand for LC-TOF MS instruments, which provide a more cost-effective choice for routine analyses. Demand for LC-TOF is also high for environmental analysis and in the agriculture and food industries because of its ability to identify contaminants in complex samples. The biotechnology and forensics industries are also significant markets for LC-TOF MS due to the high mass range capability of TOF mass analyzers. Sales to the forensics market, in particular, are set to grow dramatically in 2009 due to a Bruker order for more than $10 million for police laboratories in Japan (see IBO 2/15/09). Such an order is likely to garner attention in world forensics world, as well as demonstrate the potential of LC-TOF MS to forensic scientists.

Waters has long been the leader in the LC-TOF market, which includes companies such as Agilent, Bruker, JEOL and LECO. Bruker’s recent order will dramatically increase its vendor share, although Waters is likely to remain the market leader for 2009. As demonstrated by the activity level of these five vendors, the LC-TOF market is still quite dynamic and competitive. It appears as though the rapid take-off in demand for LC-TOF, which many had thought would happen years ago, may be on the verge of occurring due to the improved performance of newer models and the large disparity in cost to other MS techniques.

LC-TOF MS at a Glance:

Leading Suppliers

• Waters

• Bruker

• Agilent

Largest Markets

• Pharmaceuticals

• Environmental Analysis

• Agriculture and Food

Instrument Cost

• $150,000–$300,000

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