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NanoString Touts New Technology Development Programs, Oncology Products at JP Morgan Conference

SAN FRANCISCO (GenomeWeb) – NanoString highlighted the promise of its upcoming technologies as well as its progress in the oncology field at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference held here this week.

With an eye on the future, CEO Brad Gray said the firm expects its upcoming Digital Spatial Profiling and Hyb & Seq technologies to make major dents in biology and the clinical sequencing markets.

In the nearer term, he said the firm is also focusing on expanding its oncology footprint with products that run on its flagship nCounter system and additional collaborations with pharmaceutical companies.

In oncology, he said that the firm's immune-oncology panel that it launched in the third quarter of 2017, PanCancer IO 360, is now its top selling panel. That panel looks at the expression of 770 genes related to the tumor and the tumor microenvironment to identify what is driving tumor growth and how the immune system is responding. It also includes the 18-gene tumor inflammation signature that NanoString identified in collaboration with Merck.

Gray said that the company plans to launch other panels within the 360 series in the areas of breast cancer and hematology, although did not provide a timeline.

In addition, Gray said that it would be important to expand outside of oncology,, and said the next two areas of focus would be neurology and immune-related diseases. "We're popular in cancer because we have great panel content," he said, adding that the firm would be looking to repeat the formula and build new panels for these two other disease areas.

In 2018, Gray said that the company plans to continue to focus on its two new technologies: Digital Spatial Profiling and its Hyb & Seq sequencing technology.

DSP uses oligonucleotide barcodes with photocleavable antibodies to tag proteins and genes, enabling analyses that are similar to immunohistochemistry, but not constricted by a four-color limit. The technology will enable spatial quantification of protein and gene expression.

The firm plans to launch its DSP system in early access in the second half of the year. It is already collaborating with a number of partners in a technology access program, including MD Anderson, the Netherlands Cancer Institute, Yale, and Novartis.

In addition, Gray noted that the company plans to demonstrate at the February Advances in Genome Biology and Technology meeting that the DSP workflow can be read out not only by the firm's nCounter system, but also by next-generation sequencing.

"We think spatial biology will be fundamental in cancer, neurobiology, and basic science," Gray said during a breakout session after the presentation. As such, "we want our ability to impact that field to not be constrained by our nCounter installed base, but to be able to go into any genomics laboratory."

Also at AGBT, Gray said that the company plans to present customer data generated on the Hyb & Seq platform in the areas of cancer and infectious disease. At last year's AGBT meeting, the firm had a prototype instrument on site and ran an 11-gene oncology panel starting from formalin-fixed paraffin embedded tissue.

The Hyb & Seq technology is a hybridization-based sequencing approach with optical barcoding. As previously described, the company designed it with the clinical market in mind. As such, it does not use enzymes or include an amplification step and enables DNA extraction and target capture in one single-tube step.

Gray said that Hyb & Seq is its "most ambitious program" and is aimed at tapping into an estimated $44 billion sequencing market by 2022 with an initial focus on oncology and infectious disease.

Development of the technology has been spurred by a partnership the firm struck with Lam Research Corporation last August. Under the agreement, Lam, a manufacturer of semiconductor equipment, will provide $50 million in funding over three years to cover development and regulatory approval of the instrument, as well as engineering and technical support. Gray said that the company plans to further demonstrate how the agreement with Lam has impacted the technology at next month's AGBT meeting.

Another key to NanoString's business is its collaborations with pharmaceutical companies. In order to forge those partnerships, Gray said the company has begun initiating small pilot studies. Such studies increased by 65 percent in 2017, he said, and the company now has 68 different diagnostic pilot studies with 39 companies. The ultimate goal is to turn those pilot studies into companion diagnostic development partnerships like the one with Celgene to develop a companion diagnostic for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma patients along with Celgene's Revlimid (lenalidomide).

But even if such pilots don't results in CDx development deals, they can still yield valuable data and insight that can be used to develop research panels, Gray said. He cited Merck's recent decision to pull out of a CDx development program based on a tumor inflammation signature. NanoString now incorporates that signature into its PanCancer IO 360 panel.

Regarding its partnership with Celgene, Gray said that he anticipates the result of the clinical trial to be available this year followed by a pre-market approval submission of a CDx to the US Food and Drug Administration and a potential launch as early as 2019.

Earlier this week, NanoString released preliminary fourth quarter and full year 2017 earnings, reporting higher-than-expected product and service revenues in the fourth quarter of 2017.