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Illumina Officials Say Array Business Will Benefit from Epicentre Buy

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By Justin Petrone

Illumina's acquisition of reagent maker Epicentre Biotechnologies could offer some advantages for its microarray business, according to company officials.

CEO Jay Flatley said during an earnings call last week that the firm has in the past licensed "several" Epicentre enzymes for use in its array business. Now the firm has the "ability to use those enzymes at cost rather than [retail] price," he said.

San Diego-based Illumina acquired privately held Madison, Wis.-based Epicentre last month for an undisclosed sum. So far, the purchase has had the most visible impact on Illumina's next-generation sequencing business, giving it exclusive access to a suite of library preparation kits that Illumina called a "key component" of its rationale for the buy.

Branded as Nextera, the approach relies on a mutant version of the Tn5 transposase, which fragments DNA and adds sequencing adaptors in a single step. Researchers have reacted positively to the kits, citing advantages in terms of speed, low DNA input, and lack of equipment required. Flatley claimed at an investor conference last month that the Epicentre technology cuts sequencing sample-prep time from 12 hours and nine steps to two hours and four steps.

While the Epicentre purchase has an obvious upshot for Illumina's sequencing business, both Flatley and Tristan Orpin, Illumina's chief commercial officer, said that the acquisition benefits the array business, too. For instance, Illumina has in the past publicly recommended its expression arrays be used with Epicentre reagents.

Specifically, Epicentre has sold its TargetAmp Nano-g Biotin-aRNA Labeling Kit for use with Illumina Expression BeadChips. This kit provides for the amplification and biotin-labeling of mRNA in total RNA of greater than 25 nanograms.

In addition to the Nextera technology and targetAmp kits, Epicentre offers a number of enzymes and molecular biology reagents for applications, such as DNA, RNA, and protein sample prep; PCR; cloning; DNA and RNA sequencing; in vitro transcription; and transposition.

Epicentre offers "a very broad suite of technologies; different enzymes, different chemistry," Orpin told BioArray News recently. Beyond Nextera, there will be "things that tie into quantitative PCR and the array portfolio," he said. Orpin did not elaborate and a company spokesperson this week declined to provide further details of the impact of the acquisition on Illumina's array business.

The acquisition follows similar purchases by rivals in the array market. Affymetrix, for instance, bought reagent maker USB in 2007, the same year Agilent Technologies acquired Stratagene (BAN 1/8/2008).

In both cases, Affy and Agilent gained a large portfolio of reagent products, some of which were later folded into the firms' respective array businesses. Agilent, for instance, launched Stratagene-made labeling kits for microRNA and gene expression, as well as comparative genomic hybridization applications, a year after the acquisition (BAN 7/8/2008).

Flatley last week called Epicentre the "leading innovator in next-generation sequencing sample prep technology," and noted the firm has also developed a "broad portfolio of specialty enzymes." He said that Illumina will begin to transition from using enzymes from other third-party providers to using Epicentre enzymes, where applicable.

Illumina is currently evaluating the Epicentre portfolio, and will continue to sell Epicentre kits when they "make sense" to continue marketing. The firm may rebrand products that work directly with Illumina systems as Illumina products, while maintaining the Epicentre brand for more generic products, Flatley said. He added that the evaluation will be completed within a few months.


Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioArray News? Contact the editor at jpetrone [at] genomeweb [.] com.

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