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The War of the Sequencers

This post has been updated to clarify the BGI team's findings.

In the desktop sequencing wars, Life Technologies seems to be winning on at least one front — marketing. According to a report by Jon Groberg at Macquarie Equities Research, Life Tech has placed around 1,300 of its Ion Torrent PGM machines, compared to 700 MiSeq systems sold by Illumina.

Groberg says that these numbers are "surprising given PGM's earlier launch date and field feedback that continues to suggest the MiSeq is more accurate and easier to use."

Recently, a number of groups have attempted to compare the two platforms, including the Sanger Institute, a group from the University of Birmingham, and BGI. None of these studies have conclusively named a winner, and each group comes to slightly different conclusions.

As Daily Scan's sister publication In Sequence reports, the Sanger Institute found that "the MiSeq excelled in terms of raw read accuracy, but the PGM called the greatest percentage of SNPs correctly." The team also found that the platforms are "quite closely matched in terms of utility and ease of workflow."

Meantime, the BGI team found that the read quality of PGM was more stable than the HiSeq. However, the MiSeq requires less sample input and is more flexible.

In his report, Groberg cites several factors leading to Life Tech's better selling success: price — the PGM sells for $75,000, while the MiSeq goes for $125,000; Life has a more extensive commercial reach; the trajectory of improvement for the PGM is greater than for the MiSeq; and the PGM excels at certain key applications.

He concludes that Illumina has three options for catching up to Life:

"1) Cut the price of its box; 2) Expand its sales efforts (e.g. increase spend); 3) Do nothing and hope that Ion Torrent's technology stops improving while MiSeq keeps improving."

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