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NanoString to Boost Digital Spatial Profiling Through New Panel, NGS Compatibility

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NEW YORK – NanoString said yesterday that with continuing strong interest in its recently launched digital spatial profiling technology, GeoMx, it has big plans for the platform in the coming year. 

Specifically, the company is hoping that several early-access sites will begin using the platform for more discovery-oriented research with readout via next-generation sequencing during Q4 of this year, as it prepares to make systems that are compatible with NGS more broadly available in 2020.

In line with these plans, the firm also launched a gene expression panel called GeoMx Cancer Transcriptome Atlas, which merges content from three existing panels for the nCounter system — PanCancer Pathways, PanCancer Immune Profiling, and the IO 360 panels — with additional gene content. 

The three existing panels are currently read out on NanoString's nCounter platform but the new panel will be compatible with Illumina NGS instruments. During a conference call discussing the company's third-quarter earnings, NanoString CEO Brad Gray said that the new assay will allow customers to simultaneously measure more than 1,600 genes with spatial context, using either fresh frozen or FFPE tissue samples.

Currently, only customers participating in the company's technology access program — in which NanoString performs spatial profiling in its own lab and delivers the resulting data to customers — will be able to use the new panel with NGS readout. By at some point next year, NanoString will start making NGS-directed GeoMx content available to customers for in-house use.

Since launching GeoMx this spring, Nanostring has only shipped a handful of instruments. But according to Gray, the rollout has gone "as smoothly as we dared hope" and the company now expects to ship as many as 25 systems in the fourth quarter of this year.

"Most of the customers who are currently receiving instruments were part of our priority site program and have waited for up to a year for their instruments to be delivered, [and] enthusiasm at these sites has been like nothing we've experienced previously," he added.

Early users of the platform have also begun publishing findings in the scientific literature, including studies of immuno-oncology biomarkers to predict drug response or elucidate adverse outcomes.

Reading out GeoMx results on NanoString's own nCounter instruments has meant that interest in the new spatial profiling technology has also dragged up sales of the nCounter. But in moving to offer GeoMx for NGS readout, NanoString will lose that advantage. 

But Gray assuaged concerns from investors during the call, noting that the market for spatial profiling, including customer  interested in implementing GeoMx who already have sequencers in house, is vast in comparison to the market for new nCounter customers.

"Certainly GeoMx as an application ... has breathed new life into nCounter and given a whole new category of customers a great reason to own a system," Gray said. "To date, I think about 20 percent of the nCounters that we've [sold this year] have been in some way or another associated with GeoMx."

"We think that's a great thing and I don't think we believe that's going to curtail substantially in 2020 or even at all," he added.

That said, Grey explained, the company isn't focused on that aspect in its pursuit of the spatial profiling market. "As you know, the decision to open up GeoMx to read [out] in NGS was motivated by the tremendous market opportunity that we can get access amongst the 15,000 NGS systems out there," he said. "And because the GeoMx opportunity dwarfs the nCounter opportunity in totality, we're not really overly focused on any decrement that could come to the nCounter business by opening up."

The new Transcriptome Atlas panel is not the firm's only move towards bringing more discovery-oriented customers to GeoMx.

The company is also entering a partnership with the Human Cell Atlas consortium, a global collaboration to identify, map, and characterize the trillions of cells in the human body. Under the partnership, NanoString will provide "preferred" GeoMx access to HCA member institutions. 

"HCA investigators have identified spatial biology as the next major focus of this audacious undertaking, and we're honored to have GeoMx become part of their landmark project," Gray said.

In addition to providing priority access to the HCA, NanoString also said it is opening a spatial biology grant program for HCA members. These grants, which will open for application this December, will provide services for 12-sample projects with up to 12 regions of interest using the new transcriptome atlas panel. 

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