Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Bruker Wins NanoString Auction

NanoString declaring bankruptcy on the eve of 2024's edition of AGBT was a shock to many at the meeting and then there was confusion: would one of the sponsors have a dark booth? The aggressive 10X Genomics legal strategy that forced the bankruptcy raised a degree of polite ire. But NanoString marketing carried on and CSO Joe Beecham delivered a fiery speech saying "we're not going anywhere". Then an investment firm, Patient Square Capital, appeared to be the front runner for acquiring the assets, with speculation they would combine NanoString with their other spatial omics portfolio company, Resolve Biosciences.  But last week, as the genomics world was still processing PacBio's turmoil, news broke that Bruker had significantly outbid Patient Square - $392.6M vs $220M.  So Bruker takes NanoString home - and I gives me an entree to float an ontology of spatial technologies I've been fermenting, as Bruker will now have instruments in the four major spatial approaches.  And 10X now has a more formidable opponent in the ongoing patent wars.

I've been trying to wrap my head around the spatial field, despite not having any active projects in the space.  It's fascinating and exciting and has echos to prior work in the pharma field.  It's also still a very early space, with companies coming and going (I just came across yet another small player this morning)  and academics floating new ideas and significant updates to older ones.  For any such complex technology field, it helps me to be able to cluster technologies on important characteristics, to taxonomize or develop sets of characteristics that cut across simple trees.  Right now my mental map of spatial is still somewhat tree-like.

In this model, there is an initial bifurcation.  One set of technologies is focused more on nucleic acids, with proteins being the junior partners.  Many of these approaches have a history tracing back to genomics labs and genomics thinking.  The other set are protein forward and trace to the world of pathologists.  Another key aspect is whether spatial imaging is confined to user-selected "regions of interest" (ROI) or across the entire visual field.  For sequencer bound methods, ROI is more economical with reads, but does open the possibility of regretting one's choices of ROI. And it's worth noting that there are technologies I'm still deciding whether to call them spatial -- how many simultaneous analytes to qualify and how complex the spatial information?  For example, PixelGen gives information on where target molecules are on the surface cells (such as which are clustered), but doesn't map all the cells across tissue - so spatial but not spatial! 

Nucleic acid forward technologies can then be split into those that create indexed sequencing libraries to be read on a conventional sequencer ("sequencer bound"), and those that directly generate the rich spatial data on instrument by a hybridization-focused approach. The spatial options for Element Biosciences and Singular Genomics, as well as the defunct instrument from ReadCoor, fuse these branches.  Nanostring has entries in both: GeoMx is an ROI approach yielding sequencing libraries and CosMx a direct imaging whole-field system.   So did 10X Genomics: Visium (whole field sequencer-bound) and Xenium (direct data generation). VizGen is only in the direct generation space.  There's also a logic of using the sequencer-based schemes that have a broader discovery capability followed by higher resolution studies with the imager-based schemes.  

Protein-forward approaches also have two general flavors: those that detect using mass spectrometry and those that detect using antibody staining.  The mass spectrometry schemes are ROI-based: the instrument is directed to zap a spot of interest and molecules in that region are ionized.  Staining schemes look a lot like multiplex versions of conventional Immunohistochemistry (IHC).  Bruker already has entries in both these areas, having bought Canopy to obtain the staining-based ChipCytometry product line and mass spectrometry covered by their SpatialIOMx line.  

Is Bruker building out a coherent spatial biology portfolio or a disordered clutter of technology?  That will remain to be seen.  As noted above, the Nanostring GeoMx and CosMx products have a logical progression in translational research - will any of that cross-fertilize with ChipCytometry and SpatialIOMx?  Will any of these synergize with their high content screening technology acquired from Berkeley Lights via PhenomeX?  Will, for example, Bruker develop logical, coherent software that will bridge these different technologies and make it easier for researchers to switch between them?  And will anyone be able to inject these high content, multi-omic systems into clinical settings or will they remain the province of academics and very well financed drug discovery firms?  All questions that can't be answered now.


Anonymous said...

FYI, Bruker also owns Acuity Spatial Genomics - https://acuityspatialgenomics.com

Keith Robison said...

Thanks for catching that!

Stupid lack of a cross-reference in my notes - Acuity pointed to Bruker but the reverse link was missing

Anonymous said...

funny how you always leave STOmics out of the conversation....