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Quiatech s Pettersson on Array-Based Sequence-By-Synthesis Technology

Torbjörn Pettersson

At a Glance

Name: Torbjörn Pettersson

Title: CEO, Quiatech

Before he became CEO of Quiatech in January 2002, Torbjörn Pettersson held various positions within the Pharmacia group where he most recently served as marketing director for the Amersham Pharmacia Biotech proteomics initiative. Pettersson also served as director of business development within Pharmacia Biotech.

In late August, Quiatech was chosen by the European Commission to head a €1.3 million ($1.6 million), two-year research project that seeks to develop an array-based sequence-by-synthesis technology in conjunction with commercial and academic partners in Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania, and Germany based on Quiatech's reversible terminator technology.

According to Quiatech, the EC funding will enable the project members to "create a DNA sequencing platform that is faster and significantly more cost effective than those currently available" and that will fulfill "future demands for understanding diagnosis, treatment, prevention of disease, and point-of-care personalized medicine."

Perhaps more importantly, the financial investment from the EC may push Uppsala, Sweden-based Quiatech from a research-oriented company brimming with ideas, to one with its first commercially available tool.

To get a better handle on what the new EC funding means for Quiatech, BioArray News corresponded with Pettersson via e-mail this week.

How is your technology a departure from other commercial sequence-by-synthesis tools?

Today two different tools for SBS has been placed on the market and both are based on the pyrosequencing technology where the release of pyrophosphate is detected by luciferase. Biotage has a low-throughput instrument and 454 [has] a high-throughput instrument.

Solexa has recently — the end of August 2005 — indicated that they will put an instrument on the market before the end of the year based on similar principles as this EU project will work with.

The differentiating issues with our technology to the currently marketed technologies are that [our] reversible terminators can read homologous sequences with full accuracy and also do long reads. This makes the technology a contender for fulfilling the initiatives to eventually reach the goals set out by the [National Human Genome Research Institute] on the sequencing of a full genome for $1,000.

What will you need to develop to have a technology that is ready for commercialization?

The project does cover the means to develop a functioning reversible terminator- enzyme-microfluidics system. The extra work needed would then be the adaptation of the technology on to a commercial instrument platform.

Quiatech appears to be the project coordinator here, but how will your partners aid in developing the technology?

This EU project is a collaboration project between six parties where each part will contribute [in] different [ways]. Asper Biotech of Tartu, Estonia, will provide expertise and knowledge in the development of a fluorescent detection technology.

Fermentas of Vilnius, Lithuania, will develop the polymerase enzyme that is optimal for the sequencing-by-synthesis technology, and Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt University, has extensive knowledge in the areas of dye labelling of biological molecules as well as enzyme development and will contribute with the labelling of the dNTPs with fluorescent dyes and in the polymerase development under the head of Joachim Engels.

Silex Microsystems of Järfälla, Sweden, are experts in the field of micro- and nanotechnology with specialization in microfluidics. The company will use this technology to develop a microfluidic reaction device that will enable commercial use of this technology. [Finally], the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology at Tartu University in Tartu, Estonia, will use their extensive knowledge and experience in the area of bioinformatics in the development of the bioinformatics element of the project.

Is SBS now your main priority at Quiatech? What is the status of the in situ microarrays you are developing?

Quiatech is developing a series of technologies and products. The commercial focus today is on [several of] our proprietary technologies

[One is our] 2' protection chemistry for RNA synthesis, DTM. This [is] in the form of amidites that will enhance the way RNA-oligos can be synthesized and purified for the growing RNAi market.

[Another is for] the synthesis and purification of DNA-oligos, especially for long oligos, genome-wide oligo sets, and dual labelled probes. The essence of the technology is the ability to synthesize, remove de-purified fragments, and finally to perform state-of-art purification [in a cartridge-based format].

[Also we are working on] in situ synthesis [for microarrays]. This technology is developed and we have shown the full functionality of a technology that gives the result of a fully reversed oligo with a functioning 3'-end that is also at the same time purified, removing the truncated fragments from the array.

In the array world there [still] is not yet a full understanding of the impact of pure oligos on the functionality of the array. Quiatech… set out to help the array manufacturers of the business to be able to make almost perfect arrays from a probe perspective and [believes] that this in the hands of the researchers would give rise to better and more secure results.

We believe that enhancing the quality of the probes on arrays will be a major issue for securing the development of [the] array based market, especially for regulated areas such as drug development and diagnostics.

[In addition to SBS], we are also working on an in situ signal amplification technology that we believe has a good future. It is an isothermal method that is adaptable to amplifying signals for in vitro diagnostics as well as genomics- and proteomics-based systems.

You mentioned that once the project is successful you may reach out to commercial partners to launch the platform. Can you explain what kind of commercial partners you would be interested in working with?

For commercialization of a new instrument platform, any development needs to be done in collaboration with a major manufacturer. Taking an instrument platform to a global market in the biotech supply field is a more than $100 million effort. The initial instrument development can be done together with a smaller dedicated partner, but bringing it to the global market takes one of the market leaders to really make it.

You recently received SEK 54 million from your main investors. Do you anticipate another round of investment in the near future?

We have already raised another SEK 6 million in funding and are planning for raising more money in the near future to secure our commercialization process.

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