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In BD Deal, NanoString Looks to Broaden Appeal to Single-Cell Genomics Researchers

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NanoString Technologies is no newcomer to the single-cell genomics market. The firm last year launched a single-cell gene expression assay for use on its nCounter Analysis System. But the company has decided to expand its single-cell genomics offering by partnering with BD Biosciences.

Under an agreement announced last week, NanoString and BD plan to develop a single-cell isolation and analysis workflow by combining BD's FACSJazz Cell Sorting System and NanoString's Single Cell Assay.

Chris Grimley, NanoString's vice president of marketing, told BioArray News this week that the companies are currently working on experiments that will "demonstrate the power" of a workflow that combines the FACSJazz Cell and nCounter systems.

He said that while there have been a few collaborations in the field that have paired the two systems, "collaboration activities are not expected to ramp up until the last quarter" of this year.

According to the companies, the FACSJazz Sorting System is capable of identifying, characterizing, and isolating cells and depositing them in 96 and 384 well plates, providing cell isolation, tracking, and identification throughout the process. NanoString's digital molecular barcoding technology supports the multiplex analysis of up to 800 genes per cell.

The combined workflow will support single-cell gene expression analysis for research applications such as oncology, immunology, and stem cell research, the companies said, and they will collaborate on developing materials that document the workflow protocol and co-host meetings and webinars to educate scientists about the workflow.

In expanding their offerings for single-cell genomics researchers, NanoString and BD will face competition from South San Francisco, Calif.-based Fluidigm, which is considered to be a leader in that market.

Like NanoString, Fluidigm provides researchers with the opportunity to perform single-cell gene expression analysis using its BioMark system. Over the past year, Fluidigm has expanded its offerings for single-cell genomics researchers by launching its C1 Single-Cell Auto Prep System, which isolates, lyses, and preamplifies nucleic acid from single cells.

Fluidigm has also increased the number of applications that can be run using the C1 and BioMark to include microRNA expression and targeted sequencing, and it has partnered with a number of institutions to open single-cell genomics centers, such as the Single-Cell Omics Center at the Genome Institute of Singapore (BAN 4/16/2013).

Fluidigm has benefited from its interest in single-cell genomics. The company saw its second quarter revenues rise 36 percent, largely due to demand for the C1 and associated BioMark placements (BAN 8/6/2013).

While that market appetite has not gone unnoticed, NanoString's Grimley said that by working with BD to develop a joint workflow for researchers, the Seattle-based company can appeal to researchers who may also want to get into single-cell analysis at a later date.

"While relatively few researchers today are performing single-cell analysis, many more want to be sure that platforms they buy today could be used for single cell in the future," said Grimley. "By showing the compatibility of our technology with … cell isolation approaches from BD Biosciences, we will give research customers considering an nCounter purchase increased confidence that their purchase is future proofed," he said.

In regard to competition from Fluidigm and other firms, Grimley stressed the "flexibility" and "range" of what a combined workflow could offer.

"We believe that scientists want to sort cells on the maximum number of parameters, and then use analysis techniques that provide the maximum genomic information from a single cell," said Grimley.

"We believe that together these two systems provide tremendous flexibility for scientists to perform a wide range of experiments."

Readying elements

While demonstrating other applications using NanoString's and BD's technologies is "of great interest" to NanoString, Grimley said that the firm's efforts in coming months will be on the launch of its nCounter Elements General Purpose Reagents.

NanoString introduced Elements in July. Using the reagents, researchers can assemble their own customized assays using standard sets of barcodes provided by NanoString and probes that they can purchase independently from an oligonucleotide manufacturer (BAN 7/30/2013).

In NanoString's second quarter earnings call, CEO Brad Gray counted Elements as one of two catalysts the firm expects to drive growth in coming quarters, calling the new reagents the "single most important launch of our life science business over the past two years" (BAN 8/13/2013).

Grimley said that new open architecture chemistry is currently available via an early-access program and that NanoString's team is readying for a full commercial launch in the fourth quarter.

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