Invitrogen Corp. says it has a goal of being the "essential partner" for all aspects of drug development - an intricate, many-faceted process that requires the company to wear numerous hats.

The company took another step toward that goal through its acquisition of Sequitur Inc., of Natick, Mass., and the latter's Stealth RNAi technology.

"We are constantly looking for and evaluating technologies that will enable us to create an operating system for disease research and drug discovery," said Greg Geissman, manager of public relations at Carlsbad, Calif.-based Invitrogen.

While financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, and Geissman declined to comment on how the acquisition would be conducted, he said its effects on the company's year-end earnings statement would be "nominal."

Although Sequitur's offerings include RNA Catcher for high-throughput RNA isolation, as well as real-time polymerase chain reaction laboratory services, it's the Stealth RNA interference compounds that have Invitrogen talking. Although Sequitur does offer standard small interfering RNA, the Stealth compounds are synthetic and have been shown to be more specific for the target gene of interest.

"We wanted to offer researchers more of a complete picture," Geissman told BioWorld Today. "They can produce traditional siRNA on their own, or now have the opportunity to purchase this next-generation siRNA. We offer them a choice of paths they can take."

Besides being more specific, the Stealth technology also is more stable, he said. "It doesn't have any of the off-target effects," he said, and doesn't degrade as easily.

As RNAi, meant to be used to silence gene expression, has grown as a science, Invitrogen saw an area it needed to include as it chased its goal of being a complete partnering option.

"That was one of the important factors," Geissman said. "We wanted to be able to offer researchers these options along with their RNAi [work]." He added that the company believes "RNAi is going to yield some of the most significant advances we're going to see in the near future."

Adding elements through acquisition is standard operating procedure for Invitrogen. It paid $325 million in cash to snap up Molecular Probes Inc., of Eugene, Ore., this summer, adding labeling and detection technologies. It bought product lines and technology rights from PanVera LLC, a subsidiary of Cambridge, Mass.-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., in February for $95 million in cash, picking up high-throughput screening capabilities. In the fall of 2002 it paid $47 million in cash for software provider InforMax Inc., of Bethesda, Md. Although it's not all there yet, Geissman said each purchase has brought aboard a needed segment. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 16, 2002; Feb. 5, 2003; and July 3, 2003.)

"The pieces are starting to fall into place," he said. "We don't have them all yet, but the puzzle is starting to take shape."

Following the Molecular Probes acquisition, Invitrogen issued $350 million 2 percent senior convertible notes, namely to replace the cash it had spent in the purchase and to give the company the financial resources to look for other additions. (See BioWorld Today, July 30, 2003.)

It still has considerable reserves, having reported $876.8 million in cash and investments as of Sept. 30. For the third quarter, it reported net income of $13.7 million, or 26 cents per share on a diluted basis. It had revenues of $196.9 million in the quarter, a period in which it also acquired from San Diego-based Genicon Sciences Corp. product lines and technology rights centered on gold and silver nanoparticles used to detect nucleic acids and proteins.

With that goal of offering partnering options up and down the drug development line, proprietary drug research might seem like the next step, but that's not Invitrogen's focus.

"At this point, we don't have plans to really become what you'd traditionally call a biotech or pharma, where we'd produce therapeutics in-house," Geissman said. "We want to remain a partner to those other companies."

Invitrogen's stock (NASDAQ:IVGN) rose 50 cents Wednesday to close at $65.15.