Accelr8 this week met its goal of expanding the customer base for its surface chemistry beyond the microarray market by signing a deal with NanoString Technologies, a deal that will also enable NanoString to commercialize a new platform for digital gene expression next year.
Lianne McLean, vice president of marketing at Seattle-based NanoString, said that the start-up is using Accelry8’s OptiChem surface chemistry in its nCounter Analysis System, which is expected to launch in the second quarter of 2008. The system uses color-coded tags attached to molecules to digitally read expression and could complement DGE applications that Illumina launched earlier this year for its next-generation sequencing platform, as well as array-based gene-expression products sold by firms such as Affymetrix or Agilent Technologies.
Because the OptiChem surface chemistry is a component of the nCounter System, “obtaining the license prior to commercialization was very important,” McLean wrote in an e-mail to BioArray News this week.
David Howson, Accelr8’s president, told BioArray News via e-mail this week that OptiChem is an ideal surface for the NanoString technology because the nCounter does not require an amplification step in order to measure gene expression.
“They need very high detection sensitivity for unamplified target molecules and suppression of interference from non-specific adsorption of sticky molecules,” he said. “They need a high-performance coating to maximize signal from bar-coded molecules while minimizing background interference.”
Accelr8 announced the agreement at the same time that it disclosed an extension of an existing deal with Schott Nexterion to manufacture and sell OptiChem-coated slides — highlighting Accelr8’s traditional role as a provider of surface chemistry for the array industry.
NanoString’s nCounter, in contrast, does not rely on an array platform, although it will compete against array-based applications as well as RT-PCR. The system works by attaching a color-coded fluorescent reporter to each target molecule in a sample cartridge. The technology can measure 1,000 genes at once in up to 12 samples at a sensitivity detection level in the 0.5 attomolar range that should make it an attractive option for array users who need to validate their studies, McLean wrote.
“The technology uses molecular barcodes and single-molecule imaging to directly detect and count expressed transcripts without the need for amplification,” she wrote. “The nCounter System is ideally suited for microarray users looking to validate gene-expression signatures.”
NanoString was spun out of the Institute of Systems Biology in 2003 and has so far raised $17 million with investments from venture capital firms OVP Venture Partners of Kirkland, Wash., and Draper Fisher Jurvetson of Menlo Park, Calif.
McLean wrote that NanoString intends to launch the nCounter next year and already has customers in early access that it will disclose “very soon.”
She added that the company plans to “fully commercialize” the system in the second quarter of 2008 and will begin accepting preorders in January.
Digital Gene Expression
Upon launch, NanoString will be the second firm in the market with a system for digital gene-expression applications. In July, Illumina launched two applications for digital gene expression on its Genome Analyzer next-generation sequencer.
“We are more competitive with real-time PCR than we are with microarrays or next-generation sequencing.”
The first, Digital Gene Expression for Tag Profiling, can generate profiles for any transcript from any gene in any organism, Illumina said at the time. The firm’s Digital Gene Expression for Small RNA Analysis application supports researchers interested in the discovery of all forms of small non-coding RNA from any organism, according to Illumina.
Both NanoString and Illumina’s offerings are called digital gene expression because they are able to quantify the number of molecules that are expressed, while analog arrays give a relative measurement based on differential expression levels. However, McLean wrote that the similarity in offerings stops there.
Rather than positioning the nCounter as a discovery tool, NanoString sees its advantage in sensitivity, which could make it more competitive against RT-PCR assays sold by firms like Applied Biosystems.
The main advantage of the NanoString technology is “the combination of highly sensitive detection and the ability to quantitate hundreds of transcripts in a single reaction using a fully automated and very user-friendly system,” wrote McLean.
”While next-generation sequencing will be a powerful discovery tool for in-depth analysis of small numbers of samples, the nCounter System will allow cost-effective and rapid processing of large numbers of samples in follow up validation studies,” she wrote. “We are more competitive with real-time PCR than we are with microarrays or next-generation sequencing.”
The View from Accelr8
Accelr8 netted a total of $200,000 through the licensing deals with NanoString and Schott — nearly the same as its revenues for its 2006 fiscal year, which ended July 31.
While the company is focused on developing a rapid, bacterial pathogen identification system called the BACcelr8r, it continues to market its surface chemistry. Accelr8’s Howson wrote that the deal with NanoString reflects Accelr8’s ambition to market the OptiChem surface chemistry beyond the array market.
“The microarraying and related licenses reflect a relatively small portion of the potential for component licenses with OptiChem coatings,” he said. “We foresee large potential in applications that range in scope from medical device coatings to a number of non-medical areas.”
Accelr8 plans to use OptiChem as a surface coating for disposable cartridges for the BACcelr8r platform, which relies on microfluidic rather than array technology. Howson said that the BACcelr8r is still in development and that the company’s ultimate goal is to partner with another firm to bring it to market.
Howson said the company is now validating its assay methods and expects to see “rapid expansion” of its validation data over the next 12 months. “The lab results support our objectives of being able to report quantitative identification within two hours of receiving a specimen, and major antibiotic resistance mechanism identification within six hours of receiving a specimen,” he said.