Tonight's big news is that Life Technologies, the giant formed by the merger of ABI and Invitrogen, has acquired Ion Torrent for an eye popping $375M (mixed cash & stock) with another $325M possible in milestones and such.
I'm not shocked Ion Torrent was shopping itself; by linking with an established player Ion Torrent can access marketing channels -- a talent they have displayed a serious handicap in. While Ion Torrent was adept at creating buzz with founder Jonathon Rothberg's rock star presentations and their sequencer giveaway contests, actual marketing infrastructure to follow-up on all the leads generated through those efforts was clearly lacking (as in, they have yet to contact me!).
One interesting detail of the press release is the fact that the price point for their sequencer is placed at "below $100K"; Ion Torrent had previously billed their machine at under $50K. Is this a real shift, or does it simply reflect the true cost once sample prep gear is thrown in?
Now, there are several interesting angles to watch. First, how will Life position their full lineup of sequencers -- now that they have 3 different technologies (SOLiD, Ion Torrent & VisiGen) with very different performance characteristics. Plus, they had the SOLiD PI in line to be an entry level second generation sequencer -- how will this affect that?
Another area to watch is how tightly Ion Torrent is tied into the SOLiD line. While the chemistry is very different, there are opportunities. For example, can the EZ Bead emulsion PCR robots be used for Ion Torrent sample prep (with the whole sample prep issue being a big black box for the technology? Will the same library prep reagents for SOLiD be usable with Ion Torrent? I'd love to see that -- especially if Ion Torrent drives volumes which ultimately result in driving kit costs down. Of course, the biggest question is when can people actually buy one of the beasts?
Roche/454 seemed like a more obvious partner for Ion Torrent -- very similar chemistries & a tie-up of that sort might have meant a very rapid extension of Ion Torrent read lengths. Roche should be quite nervous; between Ion Torrent and Pacific Biosciences they are going to be under extreme pressure in long read niches and their next technology (GE's nanopores) are unlikely to be ready for many years. Ion Torrent could have also been an interesting play for a reagent company looking to jump into sequencing instruments. Such a company could have also brought the right sales network into play. A non-bio player could have happened, but I doubt that would have ended well -- Ion Torrent needs to complete their act & get their machine out to biologists.