Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Qiagen Buys A Sequencer

Today's news (take your pick of Bio-IT or GenomeWeb for original stories) is that Qiagen has bought out Intelligent Biosystems (IBS), the company in nearby Waltham developing a platform using sequencing-by-synthesis chemistry licensed from Columbia University
This has a potential to be a win for the community.  The chemistry behind the platform is interesting, in that it uses only a small amount of labeled terminators spiked into the nucleotide mix; most terminators are unlabeled.  This enables lower cost, and may enable greater performance if issues with label removal cause a greater degree of dephasing.  The IBS instrument, called PinPoint Mini, was targeting the clinical market but had features very attractive for research.  First, it was slated to get rolling circle amplification as the template prep scheme, which is reported to be very easy.  Second, it was designed to run 20 samples independently, with each sample potentially going on the machine at a different time.  For the clinical market this is really critical, as batching samples interferes with scheduling and can raise per-sample costs (if a lab routinely can't find enough samples to fill batches).  Yet, the instrument was aiming for the MiSeq-PGM sort of price range with $100/sample runs,  making it potentially a big winner.

The problem is that IBS had marketed the previous instrument, the MaxSeq, through a convoluted partnership with two other companies, one of which has a website with perennial issues of borrowed material and rampant typos.  Other than some brave or die-hard fans, few in the research community seemed to go for the garage band approach to scientific instrument production.  It's very difficult to being to imagine anyone in the clinical sphere taking a risk on such a rickety supply chain.  

Enter Qiagen, known for its reagent business  but also a serious player in the molecular diagnostics field.  Deep pockets, German management, marketing muscle: all things Qiagen brings to the table that IBS lacked.  Plus, Qiagen will attempt to integrate the device with some of their existing robotics portfolio, and also apparently has a deal with SAP to apply some IT platform technology to improving analysis throughput.  It sounds like launch of a sequencer may be pushed out from late this year to early next year, but now the launch is likely to be something people take seriously, especially at the competing platforms.

It's hard to believe that Roche wasn't contemplating an IBS buy too, given their unsuccessful pursuit of Illumina.  Or perhaps they weren't; Roche seems to specialize in being inscrutable, and seems to have missed a long string of opportunities to acquire companies that would fit neatly into their 454 space (Avantome, Ion Torrent).  But, it does take one of the few near-to-market start-ups off the table.  If not Roche, then Affymetrix and perhaps a number of other big life sciences corporations lacking a sequencing platform might go after the remainder.  Of course, that would require Affy to realize that sequencing is sinking the array market, a conclusion they seem to stubbornly resist.  IBS and LaserGen are both relatively conservative plays, given that their chemistries are analogous to Illumina's; going after Oxford Nanopore or Genia would require faith that these radical platforms are near market.  

1 comment:

Michael said...

Sequencing is definitely sinking arrays. Roche is going to close is production and service lab for microarrays in Iceland (formerly known as Nimblegen) until the end of 2012.