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Life Tech Reports Under $85M in SOLiD Revenues for 2008; Works on Automated Sample Prep

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This article has been updated to include a comment from a Life Technologies spokesperson on revenues resulting from SOLiD systems and consumables.

Life Technologies generated less than $85 million in revenues from the sale of SOLiD instruments and consumables last year, according to a company official.

Sales of SOLiD systems are growing in double digits, and the company is working on improving the platform's throughput and user-friendliness.

Planned improvements include a front-end instrument that automates the sample prep process, expected to be market-ready towards the end of 2009.

Both capillary electrophoresis and SOLiD sequencing systems fall under Genetic Systems, one of four technology groups that Life Tech formed after the company was created last November through the merger of Applied Biosystems and Invitrogen.

Genetic Systems comprises ABI's DNA-sequencing business and its applied genomics business, as well as Invitrogen's HLA diagnostic unit. In total, Genetic Systems generated approximately $850 million in revenues last year, said Life Tech President Mark Stevenson during the company's fourth-quarter and year-end earnings call last week (see also Short Reads in this issue).

According to Stevenson, "a little over" half this revenue resulted from sales of capillary electrophoresis systems and consumables to research customers. This market segment, he said, has been declining "in the high single to low double digits."

However, sales of CE systems in applied markets, such as to forensic customers, have been growing "in strong double digits," Stevenson said. Those sales contributed "a little over" 40 percent of Genetic Systems' revenues, he said.

The "remaining revenue" — translating to less than $85 million — came from sales of SOLiD systems and consumable kits, which have recorded "strong" double-digit growth, Stevenson said. Though the SOLiD is "an important product line," it contributed less than 5 percent to Life Tech's overall 2008 revenue, he stressed. He did not mention revenues from the HLA diagnostic unit.

A Life Tech spokesperson told In Sequence by e-mail this week that it would be "misleading" to conclude from Stevenson's remarks that "almost" $85 million of revenues were associated with SOLiD sales.

As a result of the different growth rates for its sequencing technologies, Life Tech expects the Genetic Systems technology unit to grow in "low single digits" this year, he said.

Stevenson told investors and analysts during the call that the firm will "continue to see, as announced, significant milestones and product developments [in 2009] in the area of CE sequencing, SOLiD, as well as further details on the third-generation single-molecule sequencing program that we have under development" (see In Sequence 2/10/2009).

He reiterated that Life Tech is spending approximately $100 million in research and development of sequencing technology this year.

The company earlier this month began shipping units of the SOLiD 3 platform to customers, and revealed it plans to increase the throughput of the technology to 100 gigabases per run by the end of this year through a variety of technical improvements (see In Sequence 2/10/2009).

Two weeks ago, during a closed but webcast meeting with investors at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology on Marco Island, Fla., a company official revealed additional improvements the firm is working on that are designed to make the SOLiD platform more user-friendly.

Kevin McKernan, Life Tech's senior director of SOLiD scientific operations, said during the meeting that the company has an ongoing research program to develop a front-end instrument for the SOLiD system that will automate the sample prep, including the emulsion PCR.

The instrument is meant to be "analogous" to the cluster station for the Illumina Genome Analyzer, he said. "You add DNA, and that's all you have got to do," he said. The system will generate beads with amplified DNA that are ready to be loaded onto the sequencing slide.

McKernan said that the company already has a prototype of the instrument that is "at an early stage of engineering," and has used it to produce sequence data. He said he expects a market-ready instrument "towards the end of 2009."

In addition, the company has internally adopted — and will soon be supporting — a protocol developed at the Broad Institute to perform the emulsion PCR in a batch reaction instead of in 96-well plates. Researchers at the Broad Institute "came to the conclusion that the emulsion [PCR] should just be done in garbage bags," McKernan explained, and "it works brilliantly," especially for labs with multiple SOLiD systems who need to prepare large numbers of emulsion PCRs.

Life Tech plans to share "soon" its validated protocols on which thermocycler to use, and how to perform the reaction, with a number of large sequencing centers, he added.

In addition to providing sequencing systems and consumables, Life Tech also sells application kits for use with various second-generation sequencing platforms, which fall under its Molecular Biology Systems group. These kits include the RiboMinus and the E-Gel SizeSelect pre-cast agarose gels that the company launched last year, which are compatible with the SOLiD system, Illumina's Genome Analyzer, and Roche's 454 GS FLX.

Molecular Biology Systems generated $1.5 billion in total revenues last year. The segment includes ABI's real-time and core PCR business, its Ambion business, and the molecular biology portion of Invitrogen's Biodiscovery business.

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