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Life Tech to Present SOLiD, Single-Molecule Updates Next Month; Bets on Clinical Cancer Sequencing

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By Julia Karow

Life Technologies next month plans to launch improvements for its SOLiD platform and present results from its single-molecule sequencing technology, according to the company's chief executive.

The company also bets that tumor sequencing is bound to be used as a diagnostic tool for making treatment decisions in cancer, said CEO Greg Lucier, speaking at the 28th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco this week.

Regarding the SOLiD system, the company plans to make a "major announcement" at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology meeting next month, Lucier said.

Life Tech President and COO Mark Stevenson added during a Q&A session following Lucier's presentation that at the end of the quarter, the company will introduce a device for the SOLiD that will automate several "key" steps of the sample-preparation process, and will present the instrument at the AGBT meeting.

In addition, he said, the firm has already introduced a number of sample-prep reagent kits for "standard experiments" on the SOLiD, such as library preparation kits and methylation analysis kits, and has been working on simplifying the back-end analysis and improving the base-calling accuracy.

Lucier also commented on Life Tech's single-molecule sequencing technology, saying that the company will have a "scientific briefing" about it at AGBT, followed by an "early-customer acceptance program" later this year.

The technology will allow users to generate "ultra-long" reads of DNA within "hours, not days," he said. "This is remarkable technology that we think will further the movement of this science into the clinical realm."

But short-read sequencing on the SOLiD system may also enter the clinic. According to Stevenson, the company is working with a number of customers using short-read sequencing in clinical studies. "A lot of people misunderstand that somehow single-molecule will replace that," he said. "A lot of short-run sequencing will go on and that will be ever more used in a diagnostic setting."

To illustrate the potential usefulness of sequencing in oncology, Lucier presented results from a study conducted at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. Early last year, Life Tech's Applied Biosystems unit and TGen announced a strategic alliance under which the partners would use the SOLiD platform to sequence DNA from "thousands of patients with a variety of diseases."

Lucier said that TGen researchers sequenced the genomes of tumors and normal control tissues from cancer patients who had not responded to therapy in order to help doctors select drugs based on the molecular profile of the tumors. While he did not divulge many details of the study, he said that a greater proportion of patients who underwent molecular profiling showed a 30-percent reduction in tumor size than those patients whose doctors took a "best guess."

The results indicate that tumor sequencing could become a clinical tool, he said. "Cancer is a disease of the DNA, and we have to understand the DNA if we are going to make the right therapy selection. I can't tell you when, and I can't tell you how much, but sequencing will become [a basic] medical protocol in cancer treatment over some time horizon in the future, and that's where we are taking our technology."

This, he added later, could even happen before the "$1,000 genome" becomes a reality. Given "the amount of data you would ultimately get from a full sequence vs. a breast cancer test [today], you could charge a lot more than $1,000," he said. "I think there is this notion [that] $1,000 is the unlocking of a big market — I think that's a misnomer, it doesn't have to go that low."

The company also still sees a future for capillary electrophoresis sequencing in diagnostics. Last fall, it introduced the 3500 Genetic Analyzer, a low-to-medium-throughput CE instrument, which Lucier said this week "will be FDA certified next year and is finding its way into molecular diagnostics labs for all sorts of DNA fragment analyses."

Lucier estimated the sequencing market size today to be more than $1 billion and said that it is growing in "double digits." If sequencing "enters into medical protocol for oncology," he said, it could grow into "a very, very large market."

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