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With SOLiD Generating Record Sales in Q3, Life Tech Bets on Ion Torrent to Unlock Dx Market

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This article was originally published Oct. 28.

By Julia Karow

Life Technologies said last week that its SOLiD business had record sales during the third quarter, and that an upgrade to the SOLiD 4 platform will become available to customers shortly.

The company also said it believes the Ion Torrent technology will be suitable for the diagnostic market. Life Tech plans to begin shipping the Personal Genome Machine, the first generation of Ion Torrent instruments, in late December.

During the quarter, the company's genetic systems business, which includes both capillary electrophoresis and next-gen sequencing technology, posted $227 million in revenues, a 12-percent increase above the prior-year quarter.

Sales in the CE business grew 5 percent during the quarter, driven both by consumables sales and strong demand for the 3500 Genetic Analyzer. "The CE business has proven to be incredibly resilient and continues to be the gold standard for many sequencing applications, not only in research, but increasingly in forensics and other applied markets," said Life Tech's chief financial officer, David Hoffmeister, during a conference call to discuss the firm's third-quarter earnings.

The company's next-gen sequencing business showed "very strong" double-digit growth during the quarter, he added, due to "record sales" of the SOLiD 4 system.

Chief operating officer Mark Stevenson added that the company saw "a lot of traction" for the SOLiD system for cancer research applications, where highly accurate data is important. He said the firm recently improved the single-read accuracy of the SOLiD by modifying the ligation chemistry (see IS 10/26/2010). In addition, the firm is "very much on track" with a previously announced upgrade to the SOLiD 4 that will further increase the system's throughput and will provide more details about this and the new chemistry at the American Society of Human Genetics meeting this week.

Regarding the Ion Torrent acquisition, which closed earlier this month, CEO Greg Lucier said that Life Tech was looking for a sequencing technology that would be able to generate results fast, a key requirement for clinical sequencing applications.

With Ion Torrent, "we are quite bullish that we have the right platform here to complement the very high accuracy [of SOLiD] and get to the turnaround time that is going to be quite essential to really unlock the big diagnostic market."

He said the company still has a team that is solely dedicated to monitoring new sequencing technologies, but "we feel very confident that we have a great set of technologies here."

The PGM, to be launched later this year, has been in the hands of several early-access customers who have been refining its workflow, he said. The instrument's throughput will grow over time through multiple upgrades that will use "basically the same box."

According to Stevenson, the company has seen interest in the PGM from a "range of customers" — from large genome centers, who plan "to QC some of their applications work and do some smaller genomes on it," to smaller centers and hospitals who want to use it "in application areas that will like the turnaround time and speed, and just the number of experiments that you can do."

He mentioned that an early-access customer will present data generated on the platform at the Association for Molecular Pathology meeting this month, and said that Life Tech plans to start shipping its first PGM units at the end of December.

Lucier also commented on the recent hiring of Paul Billings as chief medical officer, a new position (IS 10/5/2010). Billings used to be the director and chief scientific officer at the Genomic Medicine Institute at El Camino Hospital. His appointment is the first of several steps "to continue to evolve the company to be not only very strong in research but increasingly strong in medicine," Lucier said.

"All of these molecular tools are getting pooled into a medical environment, and we have to get the company ready to become more hospital-oriented, more genomically medicine oriented." Several related announcements will follow over the coming year, he added.

Overall, Life Tech posted $885 million in third-quarter revenue. The company had $86.4 million in R&D expenses, and a net income of $91.5 million.

Life Tech ended the quarter with $537 million in cash and short-term investments.

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