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UBS Global Life Sciences Conference, Day 1: Illumina, Agilent

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UBS Global Life Sciences Conference kicked off today in New York with a number of life science tools firms and molecular diagnostics companies making their pitches to the investor community.

Below is a summary of what some vendors had to say during the morning sessions.

Illumina

With the full launch of its MiSeq benchtop sequencer set for the fourth quarter, Illumina CEO Jay Flatley said the soft launch to early access customers was proceeding "very well," with customer feedback "tremendous."

The output on the machine has been "as hoped for," Flatley said, while accuracy has been as good, or better, than with the company's flagship HiSeq instrument. Illumina has been debugging some glitches in the platform, such as software interfaces with existing LIMS. After the end of the quarter at the end of this month, Illumina will take "a few weeks" to continue working through any continuing issues, then begin full commercial launch.

Last month, the company announced it had booked 135 orders or MiSeq. Flatley declined to provide any update to that figure or any total estimates for orders of the system going forward.

The system will sell for $125,000, a price point that Flatley said will be an important factor in driving adoption of the MiSeq. Also key, especially in terms of the platform replacing CE sequencing, is the ease of sample preparation for the instrument, he said.

He acknowledged, though, that a portion of CE sequencing-based research may never convert to MiSeqs — those that are use for very low throughput research and has no real use for the higher throughput of the new instrument.

Eventually, Flatley predicted, the number of MiSeq placements will outpace HiSeq placements though he added that that platform still has a place in scientific research.

"HiSeq is far from being a dead product," he said, adding that it has "at least" two or three years of robustness.

On the National Institutes of Health funding front, Illumina's best guess is that FY 2012 will see a 1 percent to 3 percent trim from FY 2011 levels.

About one-third of Illumina's business is exposed to NIH funding, but Flatley said that the company believes that NIH continues to look positively on research that uses next-generation sequencing technologies and next-gen sequencing grants will continue to capture a large portion of total NIH funding.

Last year, Illumina entered into the PCR space with the purchase of PCR instrument firm Helixis. Today, Flatley said that key to building sales of the instrument, called Eco Real-Time PCR System, will be to build out reagents for the platform. The company, he said, has not completely achieved it yet but is working toward it.

Agilent Technologies

Expanding the company's Asia-Pacific business as well as its academic/government end markets was the focus of Agilent's President of Life Sciences Group Nick Roelofs' talk today.

Companywide, about 39 percent of Agilent's business comes from Asia-Pacific, making it the company's largest geography. In LSG, about 31 percent of sales originates from the area, second to the Americas, which has 39 percent. Calling Asia-Pacific a big growth market, Roelofs predicted that "very shortly" the region is expected to become the dominant geography in LSG "as geographic displacement occurs."

As that happens, he added, the share of LSG business coming from Europe, currently at 30 percent, will decline.

The company's continued push into Asia-Pacific will be facilitated by an established infrastructure it already has in place due to its Electronic Measurement Group, which has been operating in the region for decades.

China, a fast-growing market for all life science tools companies, saw 36 percent growth year to date from a year ago, with 28 percent of that organic. There are no signs of any slowdown or pullback, Roelofs added, as that country's government is investing heavily into therapeutics development.

India, which as seen some weakness this year, still has grown 16 percent year to date, 11 percent organically, and is expected to see a "strong rebound" in the pharmaceutical space.

Lastly, Brazil grew 104 percent year-to-date from a small base of comparison, as the Varian acquisition from a year-and-a-half ago increased Agilent's channels and infrastructure. The country, Roelofs said, represents a "huge opportunity" for the company.

He also noted Agilent's continued efforts to build out its academic/government business, which has grown to about 8 percent of the company's total revenues from 5 percent a few years ago. That growth, he said, was the result of Agilent's development of that market, not a result of a slowdown in its pharmaceutical/biotech business.

Roelofs called continuing growth of the biologics market a "huge opportunity" also and added, "We see this as a very strong driver" in the macro-environment.

With an impending cut in National Institutes of Health funding looming, he said that Agilent's strategy build its academic/government business by continuing to focus on the market globally. He added that NIH funding represents only a very small percentage of Agilent's business.

Also, Agilent expects to take market share in the space from other companies, Roelofs said.

The Scan

Booster for At-Risk

The New York Times reports that the US Food and Drug Administration has authorized a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for people over 65 or at increased risk.

Preprints OK to Mention Again

Nature News reports the Australian Research Council has changed its new policy and now allows preprints to be cited in grant applications.

Hundreds of Millions More to Share

The US plans to purchase and donate 500 million additional SARS-CoV-2 vaccine doses, according to the Washington Post.

Nature Papers Examine Molecular Program Differences Influencing Neural Cells, Population History of Polynesia

In Nature this week: changes in molecular program during embryonic development leads to different neural cell types, and more.