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Life Tech's $495,000 SOLiD 4 Generates 100 Gb Per Run in Q1; 300 Gb Later This Year

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By Julia Karow

This article, originally published Jan. 27, has been updated with additional information from Life Technologies.

Life Technologies said last week that the SOLiD 4, an update to its SOLiD sequencing system that will be available starting this quarter, generates 100 gigabases of mappable sequence data per run at a reagent cost of $6,000 per human genome.

The company said that the new system will have a list price of $495,000. It will be available as an upgrade for all existing SOLiD installations in the first quarter, and the upgrade cost from SOLiD 3 Plus will be $10,000.

SOLiD 4 uses a higher bead density to reach the 100-gigabase output and to reduce sequencing costs. Additional cost reductions result from proprietary improvements to the sequencing chemistry, according to a company spokesperson, who declined to provide details about the nature of the new "total precision" reagents.

An additional upgrade package, called SOLiD 4hq, will be available to customers in the second half of the year. By using smaller beads that increase the read density further, it will triple the output per run to up to 300 gigabases of mappable sequence data, and cut the cost to sequence a human genome at 30-fold coverage in half, to $3,000.

Life Tech President and COO Mark Stevenson said during the company's fourth-quarter 2009 earnings call last week that the upgrade may involve "small engineering upgrades" similar to the ones the company made in moving from SOLiD 3 to SOLiD 3 Plus, but no significant hardware changes, such as a new camera.

With the SOLiD 4, Life Tech is also launching a $50,000 sample prep instrument called the Applied Biosystems EZ Bead system, which the company said "dramatically improves the efficiency of sample preparation and reduces hands-on and turnaround time by as much as 90 percent."

A company spokesperson said the EZ Bead system allows users to perform the emulsion PCR, which is part of the sample prep for SOLiD, in approximately 8 hours.

During last week's conference call, Life Tech Chairman and CEO Greg Lucier stressed the accuracy of the SOLiD 4 as one of its main advantages. "It's important to understand that as sequencing becomes more of a clinical tool, meaning that as doctors begin to look at a person's genomic data as a basis for diagnosing and treating disease, it's critical that these data be as accurate as possible."

According to Lucier, Life Tech has already received "tremendously positive feedback from customers" about the instrument. Under a collaboration with Life Tech, the Ignite Institute for Individualized Health, for example, is acquiring 100 SOLiD 4 systems, which will be installed over the course of the year (see other article in this issue).

He said that with the hq upgrade later this year, researchers will be able to generate 300 gigabases of mappable data at 99.99-percent accuracy.

Separately, Life Tech said it will invest about $100 million over the next three years to address challenges in analyzing and interpreting large amounts of whole-genome sequencing data.

As part of this initiative, the company is launching BioScope, an appliance- or cloud-enabled software product that it said decreases analysis time by 80 percent, enables SNP detection and transcriptome analysis, and allows researchers to export mappable sequence data into a standardized base sequence format.

Life Tech also plans to improve the archiving, analysis, and communication of sequence information "to help drive the adoption of genomics in both research and medicine."

A company spokesperson said that the initiative is part of Life Tech's existing R&D investment.

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