NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Agilent Technologies is preparing to launch a new product in its CRISPR/Cas9-related SureGuide portfolio, and it's looking for partners to help evaluate it and provide feedback.
Last week, Agilent announced an early-access program for its SureGuide pooled guide RNA (gRNA) libraries for genetic screening. Though it has been building a list of partners since December, the firm has no limit on the number of projects it can take on under the program.
As academic researchers develop large screening techniques for genes associated with disease and pharmaceutical firms continue rapidly applying CRISPR/Cas9 technology to many areas of drug development, Agilent is looking to leverage its SurePrint oligonucleotide synthesis platform to create what it says will be a higher quality reagent.
Part product, part service, the early versions of the SureGuide gRNA libraries are a "complete nucleic acid solution," Ben Borgo, Agilent's senior product manager for the portfolio, told GenomeWeb. "We're offering a range of different gRNA libraries from catalog content like GeCKO up to fully custom content that not a lot of people are offering."
Customers may already have experience designing gRNA libraries, he said, but Agilent is equally willing to link up with those that are doing CRISPR-based screening for the first time. "We are looking to learn from them," Borgo said. "It helps us refine what we will offer in our final product."
But this is not a beta testing phase, Caroline Tsou, global marketing director for molecular and synthetic biology at Agilent's Diagnostics and Genomics group, said. "The gRNA libraries are printed on a validated platform that prints our target enrichment products as well as CGH arrays. We're confident in the technology here and in the oligo synthesis."
Customers will have to pay for the libraries they order, but Tsou said some of the already enlisted partners have been happy with price they're getting. Borgo suggested that the price, which Agilent did not disclose, was especially good considering the libraries' size and customization opportunities.
"It's the same process to print to their specifications as to our own specifications," Borgo said. "We can offer enormous value for customized libraries."
To launch this new product, Agilent is leaning hard on its background in printing oligonucleotides.
"We're really opening up some programs, trying to go at the market with a more collaborative approach up front," Tsou said. "We have a strong commitment to develop innovative molecular biology reagents and we've recognized CRISPR as being a part of that next wave of technology."
As part of a different program, Agilent scientists collaborated with scientists at Stanford University to develop chemically modified gRNAs, leveraging prior experience with RNA modification. Now, it's looking to use the SurePrint DNA synthesis platform to get into the burgeoning high-throughput CRISPR reagent market.
It's not alone. Last year, lab software firm Desktop Genetics — which offers a gRNA design tool — signed a deal with laboratory automation firm Transcriptic that will allow it to deliver synthesized CRISPR gRNA libraries to its customers on a plate, from the click of a button.
Guide RNA libraries, such as the GeCKO v2.0 plasmids, are also available for research use from non-profit reagent repository Addgene.
But Agilent says it can offer a library quality that others can't match. For starters, Tsou said SurePrint can consistently deliver oligos much longer than the approximately 100 to 120 nucleotide-long gRNAs. "One twenty is no problem," she said. "We don't even blink at it."
Agilent can also offer libraries with as many as 200,000 constructs or more. "That's the range where the technology shines," Borgo said.
Of the customers already signed up to the early-access program, some are very experienced and know what they want, but haven't been able to find it elsewhere, she said.
But the program is also geared to latecomers to CRISPR, who need a different set of products to help them get started. "They need much more guidance," Tsou said. The early-access program will provide Agilent scientists to help customers with every step of a CRISPR screen.
"We can provide something that is in a format that they can test and validate. Call it a catalog version. Those early trial customers will be able to gain some level of experience," she said.
Researchers interested in joining the early-access program can fill out an intake form on Agilent's website, or talk with an Agilent representative if they have an existing relationship.
If researchers already know how to build gRNA libraries, they can send their specifications in a FASTA file format straight to Agilent. For those new to the process, Agilent will offer library design services. The firm has built an internal informatics tool for designing the libraries, which Borgo said could eventually wind up in its user-facing SureDesign software package that powers its other custom oligo products.
In exchange for help designing the gRNA libraries, Agilent is looking for feedback. "We want to have market-leading libraries," Borgo said. "[CRISPR screening] is so powerful in drug discovery and genetic disease-related research, but the danger with any innovative technology is to rush headlong into it and cover anything that anybody could want to do."
The focused feedback will trickle in through several channels. While there won't be a standard evaluation questionnaire or process, Agilent said its sales reps would be engaged to get feedback from the customers and provide additional support.
Though Agilent declined to disclose exactly how many partners it has already signed up for the SureGuide library early-access program, Tsou said there was a list and that it included organizations in both the academic and government end market as well as in pharma and biotech. She added that Agilent will be announcing results from the program as they come out.
It's also hungry for more collaborators both in this program and future ones. "We're continuously refining our algorithms and processes," Tsou said. "We don't have a cap on customers. As long as they're happy to give us feedback, so far we've been happy to take them as an early-access customer.
"There are other products in the pipeline that we're looking at, and we also are very open to working with other organizations for more collaborations to develop Cas9 variants and additional DNA-based CRISPR library products," she said.