The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference has started this morning in virtual form, so I'd really better get this draft cleaned up and out (indeed, Roche is presenting as I hurriedly type, though about pharma not diagnostics). 2021 already feels like a darker continuation of 2020, between the appalling putsch attempt in my nation's center of government last Wednesday and the still buggy roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine. As I noted in my piece on the Oxford Nanopore Community Meeting, the many disruptions of 2020 make grading the progress of companies essentially impossible: many were disrupted by lockdowns, supply chain issues and the general distraction from the year of doomscrolling.
Note that in reading this space you should generally assume that I have conflicts of interest (CoI) with many of these players and may be subject to confidentiality agreements due to Warp Drive or my current employer having made them with companies in this space. I don't hold any individual positions in any of these companies, so my CoI is never nakedly financial -- nor do I hold positions in any health care or biotech focused mutual funds. Illumina holds a stake in my employer and PacBio's CEO sits on the board and our BD folks pitch things to probably every company you've heard of and ten times as many you haven't.
What might Illumina announce on the hardware front? Given the pandemic they could just confirm successful rollout of the NextSeq 2000 with it's superresolution microscopy. Perhaps some sort of enhancements at the low end to blunt the attack there? Maybe an upgrade for the iSeq to deliver more data? But it would hardly be surprising if CEO Francis deSouza mostly reviews uptake of the NextSeq today at 2 Eastern.
PacBio is riding high with a new CEO, the Sequel IIe launch and independence. Higher density flowcells with more ZMWs will be key to pushing harder on Illumina for human genome sequencing -- it will be interesting if Christian Henry tips his hand here at J.P. Morgan. There is already Twitter hints that purely software improvements will nudge HiFi yields even higher with no hardware changes. PacBio will continue to grab mindshare for high precision long read applications, stealing some of the remaining Sanger users for clone validation and being particularly valuable in certain synthetic biology applications. PacBio stock continues to surge, giving them the potential to make acquisitions -- but what? Might PacBio try to lock down some upstream sample prep technology? J.P. Morgan presentation is Thursday at 2.
ONT doesn't do J.P. Morgan and we just had a burst of news around the Nanopore Community Meeting. London Calling will be virtual this year, but perhaps their ambitions will be a post-COVID euphoric state. I wish they'd announce a higher capacity (more simultaneous flowcells) version of the GridION. Or my idea of a PipettION -- a pipette tip that is a tiny flowcell and is loaded by a simple release of the plunger. Maybe we'll see progress on the plate-based Plongle.
They will still exist in 2021, but with at most tiny incremental innovation. I will truly be shocked if sequencing is mentioned at all in ThermoFisher's presentation 3:40 today.
Genapsys really needs to launch their 144M chip to be competitive; this would give them data volume to contest Illumina in the low to mid range. That probably will also require a paired end chemistry. Presenting Thursday at 2, simultaneously with Pacific Biosciences.
Roche will always be, to steal from Sir Winston, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. They have bought two different nanopore sequencing companies -- Genia over half a decade ago and Stratos Genomics this past year -- but don't seem eager (or ready?) to launch anything. It's like a dark walk through a haunted woods -- will the fearsome beast ever spring out upon you or not? Roche presenting at 9:10 today
BioNano had quite a run on the stock market at the end of last year, putting their market cap over $100M stock price -- and since then going nearly straight up. They've upgraded the throughput on their Saphyr instrument and just analyzed author Temple Grandin's genome - she has written about life with autism and has explored the challenges of communication with animals and how autism might give her a special insight into this (sadly, her Animals in Translation has been stuck in my reading queue for forever, a fate of many books).
With their market cap over $700M, can they now afford to invest in a sales force to drive the Saphyr into more molecular pathology and cytogenetics labs? Are speculators running it up anticipating BioNano being bought out by someone else? As I've noted before, they could fit the portfolio of any major medical testing technology company. Quite surprisingly BioNano does not have a J.P. Morgan timeslot.
Nor does Nabsys, but they are apparently shipping instruments and might be in prime position to ride BioNano's coattails. BioNano recently tweeted out some very bold statements about the superiority of their technology over long read sequencing for clinical cytogenomics -- that could be waving a red cape in front of companies such as PacBio and particularly Oxford Nanopore, as well as the HiC triad (Arima, Phase Genomics and Dovetail)
10X will spend a lot of time digesting the acquisitions of last year. Monday at 10
It will be interesting to see any progress on Hyb-N'-Seq, but I think the company will be mostly focused on the spatial profiling GeoMX system, particularly with the acquisition activity of 10X to build a franchise in this space. Wed 2:50
Startups were probably in the worst position given the pandemic. I did a circuit of their websites last year and perhaps another tour is in order. Stratos Genomics was snapped up by Roche, but otherwise I don't remember much news. Otherwise, a repeat circuit mostly triggered memories of last year -- I didn't do anything clever a year ago like screenshot everything but very little looked like it had changed. Startups were probably the most pitched around by last year's turbulence, being low on the priority lists for key reagents or consumables and often in areas with periods of tight lockdowns. I don't see any of these companies on J.P. Morgan docket -- not shocking, but it also wouldn't have been surprising to see a well funded company like Element Biosciences or Omniome grab a slot, particularly if they were getting near beta launch. Well, there are the slimmest of possibilities that Agilent will give an update on LaserGen development at their Tuesday, 11:40 talk.
I have a talk slot at the VIB Revolutionizing Next Generation Sequencing conference in March titled "Tracking the Gravity Assist COVID-19 Has Delivered to Sequencing Technology" -- I'm fiercely disappointed that I will be delivering it from Massachusetts and not Ghent -- and one of the themes will be niches for startups which have been revealed by the pandemic. There's also plenty of interesting niches that have little to nothing to do with the pandemic. But that's a topic for a future piece -- particularly since I'm still fuzzy what I'll present on this from not-Ghent.
Key Peripheral Areas
With the rise of long read sequencing comes a need for reliable -- and automatable -- high molecular weight (HMW) DNA extraction. There's already a few players in this space; would hardly be shocking if there was further investment. Perhaps some of the small players will be bought up by the reagents conglomerates, a playbook they have followed for decades. As noted above, could be a place for an acquisition by PacBio or perhaps BioNano
With long reads surging forward, some of the additional growth in short reads will come from clever ways to encode biology into sequences. This isn't strictly limited to short reads -- ONT has their clever value added take on HiC with PoreC -- but given that they are counting apps it is a space very suited to short reads. Many of these stay relatively academic, but it is a fun area to watch as very clever minds twist enzymology and reaction orders into extremely interesting new forms.
What have I missed? What have I completely misinterpreted? As always, comments, tips and brickbats are welcome and I can be found by comments here, email (keith.e.robison at the G provider) and Twitter.