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New Hat in the Ring: Intelligent Bio-Systems

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Intelligent Bio-Systems, a Massachusetts-based startup, is planning to place a next-generation sequencing system with early-access customers this year.

The company, which has kept a low profile until now, has exclusively licensed a sequencing-by-synthesis chemistry from Columbia University. The Columbia team, led by Jingyue Ju, a professor of chemical engineering and head of DNA sequencing and chemical biology at the Columbia Genome Center, revealed details of its chemistry in an article in PNAS online last December.

In the article, the researchers describe a four-color sequencing-by-synthesis method using cleavable fluorescent nucleotide reversible terminators — an approach Solexa is also pursuing.

In its push to market, Intelligent Bio-Systems joins Applied Biosystems and Helicos BioSciences, which also said they will place first versions of their next-gen sequencers this year. Solexa's system is already in the hands of several early-access customers, and 454 Life Sciences plans to launch a new version of its system early this year.

"I think we are pretty far along compared to somebody else who may be just announcing that they are hopping in this field," says Steven Gordon, Intelligent Bio-Systems' CEO. Gordon first met Columbia's Ju six years ago, and they co-founded the company in early 2005. "I brought the business and engineering side, he brought the chemistry side," Gordon says.

Ju has been developing the sequencing chemistry within his academic group for many years, and has published a number of articles on aspects of it. "Since 2000, we have been working on this system in a systematic way," he says.

In principle, he adds, his chemistry could be used both for sequencing amplified DNA, similar to 454 or Solexa, and single-molecule DNA, an approach Helicos BioSciences is pursuing.

When completed, the chip-based platform will cost "probably half of the instrument costs of anybody else," Gordon says. As a result, "many more labs can afford to have this," he adds.

— Julia Karow

Short reads

NABsys, a next-generation sequencing company based in Providence, RI, acquired DNA hybridization company GeneSpectrum in an all-stock transaction. NABsys, which has a nanopore-based technology licensed from Brown University, says it will incorporate GeneSpectrum's probe design and hybridization techniques to sequence human DNA at dramatically cheaper rates.

The US Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation hope to set aside $15 million for an RFA that invites research proposals for high-throughput genome sequencing projects of microorganisms.

A Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has denied an appeal made by Applera in a patent-infringement suit filed against it by Enzo Biochem, giving the go-ahead to Enzo's lawsuit, which claims that Applied Biosystems and its Tropix subsidiary infringe Enzo's DNA-sequencing patents.

Applied Biosystems sued its former chief patent counsel and Solexa claiming that it, and not Solexa, owns several patents relating to sequencing-by-ligation, the technology used by its upcoming Agencourt next-generation sequencing system. ABI claims that its former patent counselor filed a patent application while he worked at ABI and failed to assign it to the company, assigning it instead to Lynx Therapeutics, which later aquired Solexa.

Patents

US Patent 7,158,889. Gene finding using ordered sets. Inventors: Jagir Hussan and Albee Jhoney. Assignee: International Business Machines. Issued: January 2, 2007.

This patent covers "a method, system and computer program product for identifying occurrences of a sequence of ordered marker strings in a string. ... [These] particularly relate to finding a gene in a DNA sequence."

US Patent 7,142,989. Computer software to computer-design optimum oligo-nucleic acid sequence candidate from nucleic acid base sequences analyzed and method thereof. Inventors: Yoshiaki Aoki and Mitsuyoshi Ishikawa. Assignee: Kabushikigaisha Dynacom. Issued: November 28, 2006.

This patent covers "a computer software program to design an optimum oligo-nucleic acid base sequence candidate from nucleic acid base sequences being analyzed using a computer."

Data point

$6oo million

Amount, in stock, for which Illumina acquired Solexa late last year. The merger is expected to close by the end of next month.