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Life Tech's Ion Torrent to Launch Proton PI Update Next Month, PII in 2014

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This article was originally published Oct. 28.

BOSTON − Life Technologies' Ion Torrent plans to release an updated version of its Proton PI chip next month, followed by the long-awaited PII chip in mid-2014.

At a company workshop at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in Boston last week, Andy Felton, senior director of product marketing at Ion Torrent, discussed these and other planned product launches for the firm's two sequencing platforms.

As In Sequence reported last week, Ion Torrent has started a technology access program for pre-commercial release of new products on a wide scale (IS 10/22/2013). Next month, customers will be able to order a new sequencing chemistry for the PGM, called Ion Hi-Q, as well as a new rapid isothermal template amplification method, formerly called Avalanche, through the program. Both will be launched commercially in 2014 — the emulsion-PCR-free template prep method early in the year and the sequencing chemistry in July.

Hi-Q, which uses a mutagenesis-optimized polymerase, will initially be available only for the PGM, although a version for the Proton is in development. An Ion Torrent spokesperson told In Sequence that "the same principles that apply to the enzyme development for PGM will apply to Proton."

During the ASHG workshop, Felton showed data for an E. coli genome sequenced on the PGM with 420-base pair reads using Hi-Q, with a mean quality value of Q35 across the full length of the reads.

Next month, Ion Torrent plans to launch version 3 of its PI chip for the Proton, which will have sufficient output to sequence an AmpliSeq exome trio. Also in November, it plans to release a 16S RNA analysis module — currently in beta-testing — for the Ion Reporter software platform.

The company is now focusing its efforts on the PII chip, Felton said, which it had originally planned to launch in the middle of this year (IS 2/26/2013). That chip will have 660 million wells and will generate 200 to 300 million reads per run.

It will have "the same development trajectory as PI," according to the spokesperson, starting with an initial read length of 100 base pairs, for a total output of 20 to 30 gigabases per run, which will increase over time. The first application will be RNA-seq, followed by exome sequencing and others.

Early access for PII, which will be fully supported by the current Proton instrument, will start in March 2014, with a planned commercial release in mid-2014.

The PII chip required the company to reduce the size of the wells and the beads by half, and to optimize the chip sensor, well geometry, and bead manufacturing. The beads, developed in collaboration with Dynal, a Life Tech company based in Norway, are less than half a micrometer in size.

After finalizing the chip and bead design, the firm is now working on the chip electronics, in particular high-speed data transfer, which Felton said has been the most challenging part of the development process. He said the data transfer rate off the chip is equivalent to streaming one HD movie per second.

Early access to the firm's Ion Chef platform, which automates template preparation and chip loading, will start at the end of this year. The instrument, which has a list price of $55,000, takes two chips at a time, which can each be loaded with different samples. It reduces the hands-on time to 15 minutes, although the overall sample prep time remains similar, on the order of eight hours. Ion Chef will be launched commercially for both the PGM and the Proton in March 2014 — originally, Life Tech had planned to release it in the first half of this year (IS 9/18/2012).

Felton said Life Tech has sold more than 2,000 PGM or Proton instruments so far, and more than 300 publications with data generated on either platform have come out.

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