Race to provide DNA results

2010-04-06 11:26


Houston - Illumina and Life Technologies are sitting at the top of the market for genome sequencing, but next-generation companies with big ideas to cut the cost of sequencing are nipping at their heels.

Dr Richard Gibbs, director of the Human Genome Sequencing Centre at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said there are now 20 or so different sequencing companies trying new approaches.

Researchers said cheaper machines and the race by companies to sequence the human genome for under $1 000 will create a "golden era" of genomics.

Here are the companies that stand to benefit.

* 454 Life Sciences Corp, a Roche company, has been considered the gold standard in next-generation sequencing. Gibbs said it is quickly being outpaced by cheaper machines, but Roche hopes to address this when it introduces the GS Junior, a smaller, less expensive sequencer later this year.

* Pacific Biosciences, a private, Menlo Park, California, biotech, is angling to be the new gold standard with the expected launch of its $695,000 Single Molecule Real Time or SMRT DNA sequencer in the second half of 2010.

The company won an Advanced Sequencing Technology Award from the National Human Genome Research Institute to develop a machine that can sequence the human genome for $1 000, which analysts say could occur in the next five years.

* Privately held Complete Genomics Inc based in Mountain View, California, says it can do a better quality, usable genome map for about $4 400. Founded in 2006, Complete Genomics plans an aggressive expansion this year and will open satellite genome sequencing service centres around the world.

* Ion Torrent Systems Inc of Guilford, Connecticut, and San Francisco, California, is working on a desktop-sized sequencer that directly translates chemically encoded information - the A, C, G, T code of DNA into digital information - the 0, 1 language of computers - on a semiconductor chip. It expects to launch the product later this year.

The company has some big minds behind it. It is advised by Dr George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, and its chief executive is Jonathan Rothberg, founder of Roche's 454 Life Sciences until 2007.

* Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd has a sequencer that measures changes in electrical signals as DNA snakes through the tiny protein holes or pores on a silicon chip. It is one of several trying this approach.

In February, the company raised $28m in new funding, backed by existing investors Lansdowne Partners, IP Group and Invesco Perpetual, new undisclosed US institutions.

* Computing giant International Business Machines Corp in October said it was joining the race for the $1 000 genome by building a "DNA transistor" using a similar nanopore approach.

* NABsys of Providence, Rhode Island, is developing a system that merges semiconductors and genomics, with the hope of sequencing a genome for under $100.

As sequencing equipment becomes faster and cheaper, the machines will create huge demand for computing power, data analysis and other support services to help researchers make sense of all the data.

Here are some companies that hope to take up that slack.

* Agilent Technologies Inc, a leader in communications, electronics, life sciences and chemical analysis, offers the SureSelect Target Enrichment System, which helps geneticists analyze larger numbers of samples.

* Amazon.com's Amazon Web Services offers data storage products through so-called cloud computing, in which data is stored remotely on servers in data centres.

* GenomeQuest of Westborough, Massachusetts, offers cloud data storage plus a service that helps researchers manage, mine and share sequence data from a simple browser.

* Geospiza of Seattle offers cloud computing and solutions for crunching vast amounts of genetic data through its GeneSifter data analysis product. Companies with similar products include LabVantage of Bridgewater, New Jersey, and Partek of St Louis.

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