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Roche and 454: Could’ve Stayed Friends


Roche announced in late March it would acquire 454 Life Sciences in a deal valued at up to $154.9 million, but the Swiss drug and diagnostics company would have been happy to continue the firms’ existing marketing and distribution alliance had CuraGen not decided to sell its stake in 454, according to a Roche executive.

“Two years ago, there was no reason to think about” acquiring 454, says Manfred Baier, head of Roche Applied Science. “Our strategic intent was getting access to sequencing, and nothing else.”

CuraGen approached Roche, as well as others, as a potential buyer after it announced last July its plan to divest 454, Baier says. Since Roche wanted to maintain the partnership and secure its long-term investment in sequencing, “we finally concluded that under these given circumstances, it is the right thing to do the next step” and acquire 454, he says.

Ownership frees Roche from any legal limitations on using the technology for regulated diagnostic applications, a use not included in the companies’ 2005 alliance. But it is far from clear if or when 454’s sequencing technology will be used in this area.

Roche is aware of studies that test “to which extent sequencing provides a better, or a more precise, sensitive answer in different areas of diseases,” including virology and oncology, Baier says, and will continue “to support users in medical research as much as we can in order to let the technology migrate into diagnostics applications.”

The purchase price — $154.9 million in total — differed from what other recently acquired next-generation DNA sequencing shops have cost. In January, Illumina acquired for Solexa for $615 million in stock, and last July, Applied Biosystems bought Agencourt Personal Genomics for $120 million in cash.

“We think [the purchase price] is a very fair price. It is a significant commitment into sequencing, in addition to what we have invested already,” Baier says.
— Julia Karow

Short Reads

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University sequenced the genome of Streptococcus sanguinis, a bacterium found in the human mouth that can cause dangerous infections. S. sanguinis can cause fatal endocarditis if it enters the bloodstream of certain individuals, especially those who have pre-existing heart problems. The bacterium’s genome consists of 2.4 million base pairs.

Avestha Gengraine, an Indian biotech company, plans to work with other partners to create a genomic database of the Parsi Zoroastrians, a small, relatively genetically homogeneous population. The company will use ABI sequencers, among other tools, to build a genomic database of the Parsis. The project is expected to cost about $28 million.

A new report from the American Society for Microbiology recommends that the international microbial research community kick off an initiative to sequence the genomes of some 6,500 type strains of prokaryotes as part of a broader effort to reconsider the way microbial species are categorized. 

The National Research Council issued a report recommending the Global Metagenomics Initiative, an effort on the scale of the Human Genome Project.

Gene-IT is changing its name to GenomeQuest after its core offering, a gene sequence search product designed for biologists and IP lawyers.


US Patent 7,188,030. Automatic threshold setting for quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Inventors: Lesley Ward, Adrian Jensen, Justin Lyon, Cameron McLeman, and Bryan Tysinger. Assignee: Applera. Issued: March 6, 2007.

This patent covers “systems and methods for identifying and quantitating the presence of one or more DNA species in a sample population through PCR amplification. DNA species quantitation includes a determination of a threshold fluorescence value used in the assessment of the PCR amplification reaction.”

US Patent 7,202,355. DNA sequence regulating plant fruit-specific expression. Inventors: Hiroshi Yamagata, Yasuo Aizono, and Ayako Hirata. Assignee: Kaneka. Issued: April 10, 2007.

This invention provides “a DNA sequence capable of regulating the expression of a desired gene specifically in the fruit of a plant, a plasmid containing that DNA sequence as well as a plant cell, plant body, and microorganism transformed with the plasmid.”

Data Point


The fully loaded costs, per megabase, of sequence generated by Sanger, 454, and Illumina technologies, respectively, according to numbers presented by Washington University’s Elaine Mardis at the ABRF meeting last month. The numbers don’t correspond to coverage needed to sequence a genome, Mardis noted; they are strictly dollars per megabase of sequence generated.

The Scan

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Team Presents Benchmark Study of RNA Classification Tools

With more than 135 transcriptomic datasets, researchers tested two dozen coding and non-coding RNA classification tools, establishing a set of potentially misclassified transcripts, as they report in Nucleic Acids Research.

Breast Cancer Risk Related to Pathogenic BRCA1 Mutation May Be Modified by Repeats

Several variable number tandem repeats appear to impact breast cancer risk and age at diagnosis in almost 350 individuals carrying a risky Ashkenazi Jewish BRCA1 founder mutation.