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Next-Gen Sequencing, MDx Pull in Investors at JPMorgan Conference

SAN FRANCISCO (GenomeWeb News) - The 26th annual JPMorgan Healthcare Conference wrapped up here on Thursday, and judging by the attendance at presentations given by life science tool vendors it appears the sector is gaining greater interest from investors.
Many of the firms covered by GenomeWeb Daily News presented to conference rooms overflowing with investors eager to hear about growth strategies and new technologies, as well as several firms’ plans for two markets in particular: molecular diagnostics and next-generation DNA sequencing.
Applied Biosystems presented on Monday morning and was asked many questions about the next-generation sequencing market. The firm, which launched its SOLiD instrument several months ago, declined to provide an update on the number of instruments it has sold or placed so far.
However, ABI President Mark Stevenson said in regards to SOLiD, “the interest is higher and transition is faster than we thought it would be.”
One of ABI’s primary competitors in that market, Illumina, did provide an update on sales of its next-generation sequencing instrument, the Genome Analyzer. As reported by GenomeWeb Daily News on Monday, Flatley said that Illumina has now sold more than 200 systems, which have all been shipped, although not all of the revenue from those systems has been received yet.
The firm is hoping that new developments, including paired-end reads and increasing the amount of data per run for the system, will help drive further adoption.
On the final day of the conference, Helicos BioSciences said that it expects to commercially launch its HeliScope single molecule sequencer very soon. President and COO Steve Lombardi said the firm has nine HeliScope sequencers on its manufacturing floor right now in various stages of production and testing.
He said that although the firm does not have orders for the system yet, interest from potential customers in pharma, academia, and genome centers outnumbers the instruments on its production floor.
Investors also have been questioning if or when Affymetrix would get involved in the next-generation sequencing field. Speaking on Wednesday, Stephen Fodor, Affy's chairman and CEO, said the company will deploy enzymatic sequencing reactions directly on arrays that have captured portions of the genome, using new chemistry that "allows us to use both polymerase and ligase labeling reactions."
Meanwhile, Agilent Technologies, which has greatly expanded its genomics tools portfolio over the past couple of years through acquisitions and the development of new mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography instruments, is not yet ready to jump into the next-gen sequencing space. Nick Roelofs, general manager of the Bio-Analytical Measurement segment’s Life Sciences Solutions Unit, acknowledged that a sequencing platform is a “vacant space” in its genomics portfolio.
Roelofs said the firm is keeping an eye on the field, but “right now, we’re not proposing it.”
MDx Draws Plenty of Interest
While investor interest in next-gen sequencing has surged over the past several months, firms developing or selling molecular diagnostics have been gaining interest for a few years now and also presented to overflowing rooms.
Celera said that in addition to a variety of molecular diagnostic assays, it is developing a new diagnostics instrument based on ABI’s sequencing technologies.
Meanwhile, Qiagen said it would provide an update at its investors’ meeting next month on its multiplex human papillomavirus test and hinted that it may soon unveil a new multiplex instrument.
Luminex devoted a considerable amount of time to its recently Food and Drug Administration-cleared respiratory virus panel, a molecular diagnostic panel with 12 assays on it. Officials also said that they would disclose infectious disease diagnostic targets at the company’s annual investors’ meeting in March.
Asked during the breakout session about competition from Illumina’s multiplex BeadXpress platform, which was launched last year, Luminex CEO Pat Balthrop said the firm has seen “zero” competition. Illumina officials recently said that they expect to begin seeing revenue next year from diagnostic assays run on the BeadXpress.
Genomic Health, which also drew a large audience, is launching a new development program for its Oncotype DX diagnostic platform in ductile carcinoma in situ and is working on an educational campaign intended to urge more breast cancer patients to ask their physician for the test.
Meanwhile, Third Wave Technologies reiterated its goal of becoming the market leader in human papillomavirus testing once it gains clearance for its molecular assay. It will battle against Qiagen, which has a first-mover advantage, though Third Wave CEO Kevin Conroy insists his firm’s assay will offer technological advantages.
Third Wave also said it is working on a fully automated molecular diagnostic instrument for the hospital market, which it hopes to launch in a few years.
Bio-Rad Laboratories, which has a broad portfolio of molecular biology and protein research tools, as well as a well-established diagnostics business, continues to steer clear of the molecular diagnostics market. Company officials said they see molecular diagnostics, thus far, as adjuncts and complementary technologies to traditional in vitro diagnostic tests.
The firm plans to introduce four new panels this year for its BioPlex 2200 multiplex instrument, but company officials declined to disclose assay targets.

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