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NanoString, Broad Institute Strike Pact to Study Molecular Networks

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – NanoString Technologies said today that it is collaborating with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to investigate molecular networks involved in immune response and other biological processes.

As part of the collaboration, NanoString and Broad will also explore potential new basic and clinical research applications for NanoString's digital gene expression technology, NanoString said.

Terms of the three-year agreement, the financial details of which have not been disclosed, call for Broad Institute researchers, led by Aviv Regev and Nir Hacohen, to use NanoString's nCounter analysis system to decipher entire networks of genes to identify how they work together to carry out biological functions.

Although Regev and Hacohen are named as PIs on the collaboration, NanoString is working on various applications with as many as 15 Broad-affiliated researchers, including Broad Director Eric Lander, "who has been involved in the project and very supportive of the technology from the beginning," Wayne Burns, NanoString's acting CEO, told GenomeWeb Daily News this week.

Under the collaboration, Broad scientists plan to identify unique signatures for various genes of interest, for which NanoString will design custom color-coded molecular barcodes called CodeSets. The partners may eventually develop these gene sets into commercially available assay panels for the nCounter system.

"If it's something proprietary to Broad, it's their IP until such time that they publish it, since that is one of Broad's mandates," Burns said. "Once it's been published, we have the rights to commercialize that in a CodeSet, which is our core business.

"A key benefit of this collaboration is that we're able to work with a number of groups across Broad in a number of different areas, which should enable us to launch a suite of panels," Burns added. "They can do things on our platform that they can't do on other platforms, and in return we get rights to commercialize it post-publication."

The current collaboration will expand upon research that was conducted by scientists at NanoString, Broad, and Massachusetts General Hospital and published last month in Science. That research demonstrated nCounter's ability to elucidate complex circuitry involved in pathogen recognition in mammalian cells.

Now, NanoString and Broad researchers will explore additional gene networks involved in innate and adaptive immunity, stem cell differentiation, and non-coding RNA function, including the regulatory roles of recently discovered long intervening non-coding RNAs, NanoString said.

"NanoString offers the ability to look at hundreds of genetic markers across many samples at relatively low cost and with high sensitivity," Broad's Lander said in a statement. "They have developed exciting technology with potential applications to a wide range of scientific problems."

Based in Seattle, NanoString was spun out of the Institute for Systems Biology in 2003. The nCounter platform is based on inventions made in the laboratory of ISB's Leroy Hood, and NanoString has an exclusive license to the technology.

The nCounter technology combines specific CodeSets with single-molecule imaging to detect and count hundreds of unique transcripts in a single reaction. For each mRNA, the technology uses two approximately 50-base probes that hybridize in solution: a reporter probe that carries the signal and a capture probe that allows the complex to be immobilized for data collection.

After hybridization, excess probes are removed and the probe/target complexes are aligned and immobilized in an nCounter cartridge, which is placed in a digital analyzer for data collection. The color coded cartridge surfaces are then counted and tabulated for each target molecule.

Because it is able to detect and count hundreds of gene transcripts simultaneously with high sensitivity – less than one copy per cell, according to NanoString – the company has been positioning nCounter as a technology that bridges a gap between microarrays and qPCR. In particular, NanoString has been marketing nCoutner as a way to validate data from large gene-expression studies and second-generation sequencing applications.

Through its collaboration with Broad, NanoString hopes to add some new tools to the nCounter toolkit.

"Some of the areas of collaboration still fit nicely into this validation space, and then there are other elements that are looking at different ways to tag different molecules – for instance, the non-coding RNA studies," Lianne McLean, vice president of marketing for NanoString, told GWDN.

"The collaboration is very broad, and there will be other ways of demonstrating the utility of the platform in the validation space, and then there will be different ways of using the molecular barcoding technology to develop new applications," McLean added.

NanoString also is developing nCounter for use in molecular diagnostics. In June, the company closed a Series C financing round worth $30 million to accelerate commercialization of its nCounter Analysis System for both research and diagnostic applications.

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