NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – NanoString has made the advancement of its digital spatial profiling technology a major focus for the upcoming year as it builds up to a full commercial launch.
President and CEO Brad Gray reiterated during a call discussing the firm's first quarter earnings earlier this week that NanoString hopes to launch its DSP platform in an early-access context by the end of this year, and to expand to a full commercial launch in the middle of next year.
To build up to that, the company is currently offering to process samples for customers on its in-house DSP instrument under a fee-for-service technology-access program. According to Gray, over the last few months, NanoString initiated nine new TAP projects, bringing the total number to 40.
Digital spatial profiling is designed to enable the precise quantification of protein and gene expression in a way that preserves information about the spatial location of these analytes within a tissue sample. Kind of like a combination of molecular analysis and cytology or immunohistochemistry, the instrument uses oligonucleotide barcodes with photocleavable antibodies to tag proteins and genes on a slide. When light is shone on a specific region of interest, the tags are cleaved and then sucked off the slide for further analysis.
Initially, NanoString had been developing the DSP to be compatible just with its nCounter instruments, but it shifted its strategy to allow read out via next-generation sequencing.
Although the current technology-access program is itself a kind of early-access program for the instrument, NanoString intends to open up true early access for users to bring the technology in house by the end of this year.
"Over the past several months, we have substantially increased our level of engagement with potential DSP customers," he said on the company's conference call this week
Reflective of that effort, NanoString said recently that it had entered a handful of new TAP deals with contract research organizations. The agreements — with Covance, Cancer Genetics, Core Diagnostics, Propath UK, and another undisclosed company — allow the CROS to market DSP services to their customers, though right now under the program, NanoString still performs the analyses in house.
Gray said this week that the idea is that these labs will then transition from the technology-access program to acquiring their own instruments when they become available.
The company is also wants to expose potential customers to the platform through presentations at scientific meetings. Some early-access users shared data at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology meeting in February, highlighting the utility of DSP in studying heterogeneous tumors
More recently, at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in April, NanoString and its academic collaborators presented four more DSP abstracts. These included a study by Yale Pathologist David Rimm and colleagues, which used a 44-plex protein panel and DSP analysis to characterize pretreatment melanoma samples from patients receiving anti-PD1 therapy.
Another group of researchers, from Genentech, shared data from a study comparing DSP RNA profiling to flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry, concluding that the technology showed high section-to-section reproducibility and fair or good correlation with the two comparators.
Authors wrote that they are now moving forward to look at the sensitivity and specificity of multiplexed RNA analysis of lung cancer samples.
"Customer interest and feedback [at AACR] was fantastic, and we have been quoting the DSP instrument at a list price of $295,000 with really no customer push back on cost," Gray added this week.
He also said that NanoString's decision to make DSP compatible not just with its nCounter system but also with outside sequencing methods has resulted in a "meaningful increase" in the interest level for the technology.
"If we had moved forward with the closed system that only read out on the nCounter, we would have …. had to convince customers [outside of the 600 or so who already have an nCounter] to acquire both," Gray said. "That would have been a much higher hurdle for adoption."
NanoString has previously mentioned that it might partner with another company to drive DSP toward some specific market channel. During the call this week, Gray said that the company has received interest from different entities, including those "interested in servicing the traditional pathology market, … the next-generation sequencing and single-cell markets, and groups who are interested in building companion diagnostics on the platform."
"We're entertaining those discussions and looking to see if there are win-win arrangements that we could put in place," Gray said. But, he added that NanoString doesn't believe that it needs a partnership to have a successful launch.
"The core market of translational researchers and genomic researchers that we believe will be the early adopters is one that we feel our sales force is well positioned to launch the product into. … So, we're going to continue to evaluate these opportunities, but I don't think we can be specific about whether we will or won't enter one of these channel collaborations, or the timing of it, at this time," he said.