Phenomenex: LC Columns and More

The HPLC aftermarket accounts for more than 40% of the total HPLC market worldwide and is an important component of the market’s total growth. The majority of the HPLC aftermarket consists of HPLC columns. Although Waters and Agilent may dominate the HPLC system market, it is another company that leads the HPLC column market.

Founded in 1982 by President Fasha Mahjoor, Phenomenex has carved out significant shares in the LC and GC aftermarkets, as well as the solid phase extraction (SPE) market. In 2007, Phenomenex reported sales of more than $100 million and currently has over 500 employees. The company states that it is the number one supplier of HPLC columns worldwide and that it is among the top three suppliers of both GC columns and SPE products.

One of the keys to the company’s success is its customer service, according to Senior Marketing Manager Jason Campbell. “Our competitive advantage comes with our connection to the customer and that was something that started when we were founded. We just continued to improve and grow that customer-relationship expertise,” he told IBO. “Since we’re also a neutral company, we’re not biased in terms of ‘well, you should be using this mass spec or you should be using this HPLC or this GC.’”

The company’s product offerings are also a distinguishing factor. “We have a primary focus just on consumables. Plus we also have that across three different areas,” explained Mr. Campbell. “Whereas some of our competitors address one or two of the separation science techniques, we’re one of the very few that has full competing product lines within the top three for HPLC, GC and SPE, which allows us to go in and help the end-users go from sample preparation all the way to final analysis.”

Founded as a distributor of HPLC columns and accessories, Phenomenex soon expanded into column packing and surface chemistry. In 1996, the company introduced its first HPLC column, the Luna. “Up until 1996, there was very little technology change in the HPLC column market,” said Mr. Campbell. “At that time, Luna was the most advanced HPLC technology available on the market. It expanded the range of conditions that people could use in their analyses. It was a very well-designed silica particle [with] a very spherical, smooth surface that allowed excellent bonding of chemistries to the surface.” As Karen Brauneck, Corporate Communications manager for the company, explained, “in HPLC, one of our core strengths has been the ability to provide excellent selectivity in bonding chemistry.” This year, the company released the the Luna PFP(2) (pentafluorophenyl propyl) column for difficult to resolve compounds.

Today, Phenomenex’s HPLC columns include the Synergi, Gemini and Onyx product lines. As Mr. Campbell explained, “the Synergi leveraged selectivity in chromatographic separations” for simplified method development. “[The Gemini] leveraged pH stability so a broad range of basic or acidic conditions could be used with [it].” The Onyx is the company’s line of monolithic columns for high-speed analyses, based on technology licensed from Merck KgaA.

For protein and peptide separations, Phenomenex offers the Jupiter line of 300 Å columns. Phenomenex was also the first company to introduce a sub-3 µm particle, launching 2.5 µm columns in the Luna and Synergi lines. This year, the company introduced Gemini-NX for increased for pH method development, as well as the Jupiter 3 µm C18 column.

The Luna particle has also proved successful in the preparative chromatography market. “The majority of that market is in peptide purification,” said Mr. Campbell. “The Luna chemistry and the Luna particle in the 10 µm or 15 µm particle size just does extremely well with resolving peptides.”

Then and now the company’s R&D focus has been on leaps in technology, according to Mr. Campbell. “Our research programs are focused on radical, paradigm-changing technology and formats,” he explained. “Both GC and SPE were markets where there had been little technology innovation for long periods of time. When we entered them, our goal was to enter and innovate to gain market share.”

Phenomenex’s fastest growing product line is its SPE products, which were first introduced in 1994. “[It’s] growing at double the rate of our HPLC business,” said Mr. Campbell. This year, the company introduced the strata-XL and -XL-C polymeric sorbent for SPE of viscous samples earlier this year.

Another fast-growing product line are Phenomenex’s products for oligonucleotide purification. The Clarity Biosolutions line includes kits and columns. Recently, the company introduced the Clarity Oligo-RP columns for reversed phase purification, as well as the Clarity Oligo-WAX columns for preparative LC separation of synthetic DNA and RNA at higher flow rates and pressures.

Phenomenex acquired the GC column maker Inventex in 1997 and released its first GC column in 1999. The Zebron GC columns enable lower bleed analyses for more stable separations and longer lasting columns, said Mr. Campbell. Since then, Phenomenex has expanded the range of GC chemistries that are available. “The different phases that we’ve introduced are unique and novel. They address specific application areas that were troublesome for people. People before that just had to get by with a set of four standard columns,” he said. Recent introductions include the Zebron BZ-Bioethanol 30 m column, and the Zebron ZB-Drug-1 column for faster analysis times.

Another facet of Phenomenex’s success has been its ability to grow internationally and its relationship with distributors. The company currently has distributors in 60 countries and has 8 foreign offices. The company’s share of international sales has increased from 50% in 2001 to 63% today. “Our business model internationally is that we partner with one company per country, so we don’t create competition internally in a country for a distributor. We look at it as more of a partnership and we’re there to support their expansion in their own geography,” he explained. “In both China and Japan, we have Phenomenex employees working with the distributor at the local level. So it’s a very close relationship.”

A new market for Phenomenex is chiral HPLC and supercritical fluid chromatography. With the acquisition of Sepaserve GmbH last year, the company gained access to polysaccharide-based chiral stationary phases. This summer, the company released the Lux line of columns in two chiral stational phases for lower-cost, high efficiency separations. “That’s what people are really looking for in chiral separations: something new so they have a bigger toolbox to pull from,” stated Mr. Campbell. The company plans to release additional phases next year, as well as scale-up capability.

These products are part of Pheneomenex’s growth strategy. “Currently, we’re committed to diversifying our product lines outside of HPLC, GC and SPE, expanding more into the bio-related areas, personalized medicine, genomics, proteomics, things like this,” said Mr. Campbell. As Phenomenex continues to grow, it can be expected to retain its unique approach. “Our president and founder, Fasha Mahjoor, he’s constantly grilling into all of the employees at Phenomenex that we must look at different ways of doing things, not the standard and typical ways that many other businesses do them.”

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