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PacBio Prepares for Early-Access Program

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In September, Pacific Biosciences said it plans to start an early-access program for its single-molecule, real-time sequencing technology during the first half of next year.

The firm is eyeing both the research and clinical diagnostics markets for its platform, which it plans to launch commercially in 2010. Later this year, PacBio plans to reveal the expected performance specifications for the first version of its instrument.

PacBio CEO Hugh Martin told investors and analysts at a conference that the company currently has 12 prototype SMRT sequencing systems in house, and is conducting a proof-of-principle sequencing project on the 5.4 kilobase phi X 174 bacteriophage.

He said that his firm expects to launch an early-access program in the first half of next year that would allow select customers to run experiments on the company's early in-house systems.

Then, during the second half of 2009, PacBio would move those customers onto its in-house production machines and work with them to optimize the commercial system, Martin said.

During a Q&A session following his presentation at the UBS conference, Martin mentioned several sequencing centers and companies by name that he said have expressed an interest in PacBio's platform.

He said that the Broad Institute and the J. Craig Venter Institute would be likely candidates as early-access testers of the "circular consensus sequencing" method that PacBio has been developing for its system, where the same circular DNA molecule gets sequenced several times in order to increase the consensus accuracy. This method would be especially valuable for cancer research, he said.

Martin also mentioned that Genentech and Merck have approached the company about using the technology to sequence patients' genomes as part of clinical trials. Also, he said Genomic Health has expressed an interest in acquiring several of PacBio's instruments with plans to explore its potential for diagnostic applications.

Bernadette Toner and Julia Karow

Sequencing Notes

At an investor conference, Helicos BioSciences said it expected to have five to 10 orders for its sequencing system by the end of this year.

New genomes: Royal DSM, a Dutch life sciences company, and collaborators sequenced the Penicillium chrysogenum fungus, which produces penicillin. Meanwhile, Max-Planck and Wash U researchers sequenced the draft genome of the nematode Pristionchus pacificus. Joint Genome Institute scientists sequenced another nematode, Meloidogyne hapla.

In partnerships, Roche's 454 Life Sciences signed a co-marketing deal to offer GenomeQuest's informatics service with its sequencers. Also, Integrated DNA Technologies will provide Roche with fusion primers for some 454 sequencing applications.

Datapoint

1,001
Researchers kicked off a project to sequence 1,001 different genomes of the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana to better understand variation.

Funded Grants

$184,669/FY 2008
DNA Sequencing at a Stretch
Grantee: Di Gao, University of Pittsburgh
Began: Aug. 19, 2008; Ends: May 31, 2010
NHGRI gave this funding to Di Gao for a next-gen sequencing technology "based on pulling DNA strands off a solid surface when stretched under an electric field. It will replace the electrophoresis-based technologies by a separation-at-a-stretch method to separate DNA strands in different lengths produced from the Sanger reaction," according to the grant abstract. Using this approach with FRET "can be used to determine the sequence of the template DNA."

$380,000/FY 2008
Methylmap: A Technology to Analyze Promoter Methylation in Microdissected Cells
Grantee: Rob Mitra, Washington University
Began: Sep. 20, 2008; Ends: Jul. 31, 2012
Mitra and his team will use this NIDA funding to design a new way to study methylation in complex tissue. "We propose MethylMap, a high-throughput technology that combines multiplex amplification, sample-specific DNA barcodes, and next-generation sequencing to analyze methylation in laser capture micro-dissected cells," the abstract says.

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