Unplanned obsolescence is the fallout of risky biotech businesses, especially in glycobiology, a small niche marketplace. A specialty manufacturer can spend millions in R&D to bring a new piece of equipment to market, only to find that customer demand never catches up with cost. As a result, high-profile customers can be left high and dry with brand-new instruments and little or no guarantees for parts, reagents, or support. Also, manufacturers sell off product lines and offer limited periods of service and support, causing customers to scramble for alternative solutions--whether or not they actually exist.

Oxford Glycosciences UK Ltd. (OGS, formerly Oxford Glycosystems) is a recent case in point. Last May, the Oxfordshire, U.K.-based company gave up on its GlycoPrep1000 and RAAM 1000/2000 GlycoSequencers--carbohydrate analysis products for glycoproteins that were launched in the early 1990s. The products were never profitable, according to Paul Triniman, OGS chief financial officer. "The market...

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