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Life Technologies CEO Provides Further Details on Ion Proton

SAN FRANCISCO (GenomeWeb News) – Speaking at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference here today, Life Technologies Chairman and CEO Greg Lucier provided further comments on the firm's launch of the Ion Proton Sequencer, a new instrument designed to sequence an entire human genome in a day for $1,000.

The new benchtop sequencer is priced at $149,000 and is the next generation of its Ion Personal Genome Machine.

It will go head-to-head with a new version of Illumina's HiSeq, also introduced today, that aims to provide a whole human genome sequence in a day. Illumina, however, did not provide a price for its capabilities.

Life Tech said that Baylor College of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, and the Broad Institute have each signed up for multiple Ion Proton Sequencers and will be the first customers to adopt the technology. Lucier didn't say specifically which centers served as early-access customers but said the system had been used by some key customers.

"A genome sequence for $1,000 was a pipe dream just a few years ago," Richard Gibbs, director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine, said in a Life Tech statement. "A $1,000 genome in less than one day was not even on the radar, but will transform the clinical applications of sequencing."

The Ion Proton I Chip, which the firm said will be ideal for sequencing exomes, will be available mid-2012. The Ion Proton II Chip, designed for sequencing whole human genomes, will be available about six months later. Lucier said that the cost of exome sequencing would be brought down to $500 with the new chip.

He also said that the new system will be able to do a whole human genome sequence in two hours. Customers who have purchased the PGM will be able to upgrade at a discounted rate, President and COO Mark Stevenson said. But, he added, the firm believes current users of the PGM will continue to use that system.

"Others have to play catch-up using yesterday's technology," he said in a thinly veiled reference to Illumina. He further added during a breakout session that "semiconductors have always won, and semiconductors will win here in sequencing."

Just as Illumina has plans to seek US Food and Drug Administration clearance this year for the MiSeq platform, Life Tech also said that it intends to seek FDA OK for the Ion PGM platform this year.

Lucier noted that Life Tech started to build a clinical sales force in 2011 in advance of the Ion Proton release and said that sales force will expand in 2012, though he didn't provide further details.

At a presentation Tuesday night, Lucier also said that an informatics product called Ion Reporter will be released "shortly" to help researchers interpret the data coming off the Proton platform. Ion Reporter is also compatible with PGM.