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Here is the first with Ashley Sage, senior manager - applied markets development EMEAI at SCIEX.
SCIEX recently launched the X-Series Quadrupole Time of Flight (QTOF) mass spectrometry (MS) system for biotherapeutic analysis (the X500B QTOF) following on from the X500R QTOF System for routine food, environmental and forensic testing.
FQN: What was the highlight of 2016 for your company and why?
Sage: It was successful from a mass spectrometry perspective. The fact is that we still see a large number of our customers wanting to develop assays specifically related to food safety using LC-MS/MS as a technology. I think it is still a growing market and we’ve been able take growth in 2016 although it was a challenging year with Brexit and the economic climate.
One of the things we did introduce in 2016 was a high resolution QTOF instrumentation launched at the RAFA conference in Prague and we began to ship that instrument to customers from January 1. It was designed for the routine food safety and environmental markets. We’ve seen a good introduction to that platform to complement the technology that customers probably use more regularly which is the triple quad based technology for doing targeted analysis.
We’ve seen a trend towards customers wanting to do and use high resolution mass spectrometry alongside the triple quad-based technology to enhance their services. Whether it is from a research perspective, so the likes of the larger companies, when they are doing research into new product formulations or whether they are looking at suspect screening of contaminants within the food chain.
What are focus areas for 2017?
Sage: We are focussing on method development. We’ve introduced vMethods. These are what we call our verified methods that we built in house with a working SOP that customers can buy and utilise as a way of adding assays to a particular platform. We currently have vMethods for meat speciation so authenticity of meat we can measure beef, pork, lamb, horse and we have a full protocol that customers can follow and implement in their labs.
We also have a vMethod for allergens specifically 12 species of allergen nuts so pistachios, brazil nuts, peanuts and so on, as a screening method that can be implemented. We see that customers want to be able to buy a method and get it operational very quickly without going through all the research pain so we have SCIEX labs which are our R&D facilities which will look at the application and develop the particular vMethod.
Customers would need to validate it on their platform within their lab on the samples they are running but the method itself is verified. We’ve run it multiple times on multiple instruments at multiple sites across the globe and we know it can be reproducible by following the SOP and using the reagents within the solution.
SCIEX is part of Danaher, which purchased Phenomenex last year, which is a brand of chromatography and consumable based technology and this fits very nicely with the SCIEX LC-MS portfolio to enhance the technology to customers.
With Phenomenex we can have access to their expertise in solid phase extraction procedures and chromatography so that will be something to look forward to as the Phenomenex group become more closely aligned with the LC-MS portion.
Is food fraud/authenticity getting as much attention as food safety or second in line?
Sage: When you look at the food integrity network and listen to the discussion around the chain of authenticity and the security of that food that is going into consumers hands there is still concern. I still think it is second in line, in most of the cases it is all around protecting the consumer from contamination, pesticide residues, mycotoxins in cereals and marine biotoxins. But authenticity is still bubbling away, protecting the entire food chain and the consumer from fraudulent activity is one of those key subjects going forward.
For us, we are working towards protecting olive oils as a commodity and ensuring the value of the commodities themselves. People want to know when they buy an extra virgin olive oil or Manuka honey it is authentic. We will see a growth in that area due to concerns consumers have that when you buy a product it is what it says it is.
Authenticity and speciation will grow and over time there will have to be some regulations put in place to protect consumers against fraudulent products and the fact you are protecting the suppliers who have authentic brands at the same time.
The high resolution mass spectrometry systems are becoming more utilised, still in a research way, but the fact you can do multiplexing, multiple analytes and you can screen for things you don’t know are in there. This suspect screening where you can expect to see something but if you see something that is unusual you’ve got some way of identifying what that sample is. This area of technology is in growth alongside the traditional targeted analysis of pesticides and mycotoxins that people need to screen for in relation to EU regulations.
How far along are we at taking the lab to the sample rather than the sample to the lab?
Sage: It is coming but we’re still a way off from it. We’ve been talking to customers about moving a mass spectrometer to a slaughterhouse. Can we move a mass spectrometer next to the animal to check for food tainting or veterinary drugs or whatever else? The issues we face are potentially you could put a mass spectrometer on a production line and I’ve seen these devices like near infrared handheld devices where supposedly you can check the composition of the food but actually when you do mass spectrometry you are getting the true composition.
I think still it is one of the goals and possible achievements we can reach in the future but a lot of the time it is down to sample preparation and taking that fruit, vegetable or meat sample and grinding it up and sticking it into a solution that can be put into the mass spec. I think we are a bit of a way off but the technology and the interfaces are becoming more robust as is the software that people interface with, a lot of this sample processing has been simplified.
You could design something that could fit on a production line but it’s actually being able to put all that data in a way that gives them something that is meaningful and understandable at the same time. If we could make a small enough mass spectrometer that could do everything it does in a lab and put it on a production line I think we’d be in a good situation.
It has to work for 16 hours a day which can be 5,000 samples a day and it has to work for seven days a week, or six days while they clean the lines, so it’s the volume more than anything. It can do the job but it is how it can be interfaced to what the production lines require.
Are there any areas where you think 2017 will be the ‘breakthrough’ year?
Sage: It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out with Brexit and there is a question mark about what it is going to do for the production and the trade ability of food manufacturers. Donald Trump in the US just being inaugurated and how that is going to affect trade is another big question mark from a macro-economic perspective. From our perspective it is business as usual.
We see more about healthy foods, authentic foods, diets and reducing sugar. You’ll see things like the metabolomics of food being a growing area, understanding the composition of food, understanding the lipid content, the sugar content and how that affects people’s diets and healthcare we’ll see more research in this area from suppliers and manufacturers so they can produce healthier goods at a reasonable cost. The understanding of food and understanding more about the science is of interest. We get requests for how can we do this, what would this mean to us, so it is one to be mindful of.
Sage: Allergens are done typically via a PCR or ELISA based approach and the conversation within the scientific community certainly indicates that the level of variant and the possibility of getting false positives with these approaches, although they are slightly cheaper and maybe quicker in terms of methodology, the actual scientific results that they get are a concern. I still think there is a concern within the market the methodology needs to move to LC-MS.
When you speak with the scientific community the reliance on ELISA and PCR has been so heavily based they are looking to see how the results go and as the methods are becoming more routine, the fact that mass spectrometry or LC-MS/MS can multiplex, the fact that we can do 12 allergen species in one assay in a single run that’s one thing the scientific community is looking towards getting. The fact that you are doing lateral flow or PCR you are doing one species at a time whereas mass spectrometry you can screen all those species in one go and get some sort of semi-quantitative information at the same time.
We can currently achieve with our mid-range product, which is where the vMethod is based upon, we can achieve sub 10ppm of peanut protein in the particular food of interest. We’ve identified the strains that we know are unique so we can take the proteins and digest them down to the peptide level so we’ve got unique signatures for those particular ones.
When you talk to customers at the moment they are looking to see which one comes out the best because you get much lower RSDs in terms of accuracy of measurement the confidence is there with mass spectrometry, the fact you can screen all those species in one go adds to the fact that your throughput is going to be quite high but at the same time there will be a confirmatory test with ELISA. So the two will be complimentary but people will start to introduce allergen testing using mass spectrometry as a front line set up.