Wednesday, August 04, 2021

PacBio Pulls Down Circulomics

I was on vacation early this week when the news broke that PacBio has acquired HMW DNA solid phase extraction kit maker Circulomics -- the kind of vacation that I need where the scenery is gorgeous and the internet access terrible.  Where solid phase means monumental slabs of granite with diabase intrusions being attacked by a high salt liquid phase.  Where I actually sighted Atlantic Puffins and didn't once think about sequencing their genomes ('til now!).  But now I'm back to work and genomics.

Given my less than rosy outlook on the PacBio acquisition of Omniome as a detour from the road to long read nirvana, I doubt I'll surprise anyone by saying this acquisition makes a lot of sense.  Circulomics has the best developed HMW DNA extraction platform, and many of their kits are very automation friendly since they rely on magnetic separation.  

PacBio immediately made it known this is not an offensive acquisition -- they pledged to continue to support both Oxford Nanopore and BioNano Genomics, both of which have kits that rely on Circulomics components.  That doesn't mean this wasn't in part a defensive acquisition; there was no guarantee that any other acquirer would do the same.  Illumina notably cut 454 off at the knees when they acquired Epicentre, quickly announcing a phase-out of the 454 Nextera kits.  Of course, those had platform-specific oligos but Circulomics operates upstream of any such lock-in to a particular instrument.

PacBio HiFi performance is very tightly coupled to the size distribution of libraries -- if you have short libraries, your overall yield suffers proportionately.  So you must run more flowcells.  Perhaps worse is highly variable library insert distributions -- if today they are 8 kb and tomorrow 20 kb, then how much data should you collect to ensure target coverage?  PacBio can now focus Circulomics R&D efforts on improving performance for the size ranges PacBio is interested in.  And certainly the entire PacBio sales force will be encouraging HiFi customers to buy lots of Circulomics kits.

Despite the friendly talk, it would hardly be surprising if ONT, BNGO and anyone interested in breaking into the long read game takes a long hard look at relying on a competitor.  But there are limited other choices, particularly automation-friendly choices.  Promega, NEB and Revolugen all play in this space, but Promega's Wizard kit has multiple centrifugations, NEB Monarch uses some huge beads designed for manual operation and Revolugen FireMonkey is a column-based approach.  That's not a complete list -- there's also QIAGEN's MagAttract and probably more.  While the financial terms of the deal were not announced, just the idea that you can sell a HMW DNA company might encourage some more lab geeks to think of some new approaches.  

Is PacBio done acquiring?  I doubt it -- already they've grossly violated the rule of investment bankers being off to the Hamptons in August and hence unavailable for closing deals.  There's certainly other platform pieces one could imagine PacBio filling in, which might include more library/sample prep (particularly specialized data types) or informatics solutions.  I might even have a few in mind -- get me to a harbor bar (or better yet, back to the converse) and perhaps I'd spill some beans :-)

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