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With BlueGnome Buy, Illumina Expands Presence in Cyto Market, Moves into IVF Testing

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This article has been updated from a version posted Sept. 19 to include comments from Illumina officials.

Illumina's acquisition of BlueGnome, announced last week, will broaden the San Diego firm's opportunities in molecular diagnostics, according to its top executive.

And the head of the company's diagnostics business told BioArray News this week that Illumina and BlueGnome "remain committed" to supporting BlueGnome's existing products, including those manufactured by competitor Agilent Technologies, and said that Illumina and BlueGnome will work together to develop new products.

CEO Jay Flatley said in a statement that Illumina decided to buy the Cambridge, UK-based company as part of a company goal to be the "leader in genomic-based diagnostics" and said that the deal "enhances the company's ability to establish integrated solutions in reproductive health and cancer."

Flatley noted in the statement that BlueGnome is the "leader" in the "rapidly growing" in vitro fertilization testing market, and said that the privately held British company is "well-known for its software and assay workflows."

In some ways it could be argued that BlueGnome and Illumina were occasional competitors as both firms sell microarrays for use in cytogenetics research. Illumina's main cyto offering consists of its HumanCytoSNP-12, HumanOmniExpress, HumanOmni2.5-8, and HumanOmni5-Quad BeadChips paired with its KaryoStudio data analysis software. The firm has been pursuing US Food and Drug Administration clearance for its offering.

Founded in 2003, BlueGnome sells a menu of CytoChips for both constitutional and cancer cytogenetic research as well as its internally produced 24sure bacterial artificial chromosome arrays used in preimplantation genetics. The company said in a statement that CytoChip is used in more than 200 labs and in 40 countries as a first-line genetic test. The company's oligonucleotide array products are manufactured by Agilent Technologies, and BlueGnome sells its own suite of hardware, called ClearLab, for processing the arrays.

Another component of BlueGnome's offering is its software. According to BlueGnome, its BlueFuse software automates microarray processing, enabling laboratories to process large numbers of samples while storing all cases in a centralized database, so that users can rely on the results from these historical cases when interpreting new ones. BlueGnome on its website claims that 150 array labs use its software.

BlueGnome CEO Nick Haan said in a statement that by "joining forces with Illumina" BlueGnome will be able to use Illumina's microarrays and high-throughput sequencers to develop its next generation of products. "The throughput and data quality of Illumina's sequencers enable us to consider revolutionary new approaches to genetic testing."

Haan and BlueGnome cofounder Graham Snudden will continue to lead BlueGnome from its new headquarters in Cambridge, the companies said. BlueGnome also maintains offices in Fairfax, Va., and Singapore. The firm will report to Greg Heath, senior vice president and general manager of Illumina's diagnostics business.

BlueGnome executives deferred all questions about the deal to Illumina.

'Best of Both Worlds'

Calling BlueGnome an "excellent fit" with Illumina's goals, Heath told BioArray News this week that customers of both firms will benefit from the business combination.

"Overall, Illumina's existing customers will benefit from a dedicated and knowledgeable team of cytogenetics and IVF specialists, a more complete portfolio of products, and enhanced software offering," Heath said. "Customers now have the best of both worlds," he said.

According to Heath, Illumina intends to continue to sell and support its existing cytogenetics-focused products, but he said that Illumina customers will eventually be able to use BlueGnome's BlueFuse software to integrate Illumina's product lines. "It also gives Illumina access to the rapidly expanding preimplantation genetic testing market," said Heath.

Heath said that the timeline for when Illumina array customers will be able to use BlueFuse software "has not been determined yet."

BlueGnome's customers, meantime, will have access to BlueGnome's product lines as well as Illumina's existing cyto products. In terms of BlueGnome's Agilent-made arrays, Heath said that BlueGnome "will remain in operation as a wholly owned subsidiary of Illumina and will continue to honor all business agreements," indicating that the company will continue to sell Agilent-manufactured chips in accordance with the terms of existing deals between BlueGnome and Agilent.

Looking ahead, Illumina and BlueGnome will jointly work together on new product offerings, Heath said. "The areas of PGD and PGS, cytogenetics, and cancer are some of the most challenging areas in diagnostics today, so it is our goal to apply advances in array and sequencing technologies to address unmet needs in these areas," said Heath.

He added that Illumina plans to develop an integrated product strategy over time. "We anticipate jointly developing complete solutions for cytogenetics based on next-generation array- and sequencing-based products," he said.

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