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Life Tech Says Ion Torrent Suitable for Single-Molecule Analysis; Plans 510(k) Approval for SOLiD 4 HQ

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By Julia Karow

This story was originally published Sept. 22.

The Ion Torrent technology that Life Technologies recently acquired will be suitable in the long term for single-molecule analysis, and will enable the company to "revolutionize" the genetic-testing market, Life Tech chairman and CEO Greg Lucier said during the UBS Global Life Sciences Conference in New York last week.

For its SOLiD system, Life Tech sees the detection of rare variants in tumors as an important application, and plans to obtain 510(k) approval for the SOLiD 4 hq, an update to the platform that increases its throughput and is scheduled for launch later this year.

Lucier said one of the main reasons Life Tech decided to acquire Ion Torrent (IS 8/18/2010) is that the technology's run time is measured in hours rather than days like that of SOLiD and other existing next-generation sequencing platforms. That, he said, makes the technology especially suitable for clinical applications. He did not mention, however, how long it takes to prepare samples for Ion Torrent sequencing.

He reiterated that Ion Torrent's Personal Genome Machine will be commercially available before the end of the year, noting that it will be "the start of a set of multi-generational products" using the Ion Torrent technology, which is based on electronic rather than optical detection.

The PGM will cost $50,000, and a run $500. Confirming earlier reports by people outside the company, Lucier said the sequencer will use the same $50,000 EZ Bead emulsion PCR system for sample prep that Life Tech currently sells for use with the SOLiD. Preparing samples on the EZ Bead system takes on the order of eight hours (IS 3/9/2010).

Lucier said that the PGM could be widely adopted by individual labs because unlike current next-generation sequencing systems for which "you need a PhD to get it to work," the Ion Torrent machine "is straightforward, simple, and fast." He reiterated that the first version will not be able to sequence an entire human genome in a single run.

One model for introducing the system to small labs, he said, would be for core facilities to maintain a centralized EZ Bead system that would prepare samples for multiple individual labs, each with their own sequencer.

Asked whether the price Life Tech paid for privately held Ion Torrent • $375 million in cash and stock and up to $350 million contingent on milestones • was too high, he said that based on the firm's internal assessments, Life Tech believes the technology could "revolutionize the whole genetic testing market. Our goal and our work is to prove that point."

Looking toward the future of the Ion Torrent technology, Lucier hinted that it could be used for single-molecule analysis of both DNA and other types of molecules. He also affirmed that it will be able to produce long reads, similar to the 454 and Pacific Biosciences platforms.

He said Life Tech continues to invest in its real-time, single-molecule technology, dubbed "Starlight," although it has reduced the size of that investment. He said Life Tech researchers have "continued to make fantastic progress" on the platform, which the company said previously will be available for early-access collaborations later this year.

Regarding the future of the SOLiD platform, Lucier said it will be especially suitable for detecting rare variants in tumor samples due to its high accuracy, which he said is unmatched by other platforms. SOLiD is currently "winning most of the orders in deep medical cancer sequencing," he claimed. "That's its niche."

In the future, the "bulk" of sequencing work could be done on the Ion Torrent platform, followed by validation work by capillary electrophoresis sequencing, and SOLiD could be used for rare variant detection. "We actually see these [platforms] as being complementary to one another," he said.

As part of an effort to expand its molecular diagnostics business, Lucier said, Life Tech plans to obtain 510(k) approval for the upcoming SOLiD 4 hq system. The company is also building more diagnostic assays for RT-PCR and CE instruments. "We are looking at very interesting partnerships using these technologies," he said, for example for monitoring circulating cancer cells. He declined to provide further details about these efforts at this time.

Asked whether Life Tech plans to get into the sequencing service business like its competitors Illumina and Complete Genomics, Lucier remarked "probably not."

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