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Oxford Nanopore Opens New Bioinformatics Center in Cambridge, Will Expand Informatics Staff


By Uduak Grace Thomas

Oxford Nanopore is expanding its Oxford, UK, headquarters and opening a new bioinformatics outstation in Cambridge, UK.

Along these lines, the nanopore sequencing developer is hiring around a dozen bioinformaticians and computational scientists that will be responsible for developing software applications for genomic data analysis as well as providing support for users of Oxford Nanopore's platform.

The company said the new premises will support further corporate development following a £25 million ($41 million) fundraising effort in April to support the development of its GridIon system.

At the time, Oxford Nanopore CEO Gordon Sanghera told BioInform sister newsletter In Sequence that the financing would allow the company to validate its technology and to start scaling production units. Technology validation will include "interacting with key users who represent the spectrum of the particular application area, whether it's protein analysis or sequencing, and then ultimately, through to commercialization (IS 04/26/2011)." The company has not yet disclosed a timeline for commercializing the GridIon sequencing system.

Located at Florey House, Oxford Science Park, the company's new office space adds to existing laboratories and offices at Edmund Cartwright House and expands its headquarters from 10,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet.

Meanwhile, Oxford Nanopore's new facility at Chesterford Research Park in Cambridge, will host the company’s informatics team.

In a statement, Sanghera said the new office space will allow the firm to "expand research and development, production, and quality functions at our headquarters."

In addition, he said that setting up shop in Cambridge, which is home to groups such as the European Bioinformatics Institute and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, will help the firm "attract the best informaticians."

Clive Brown, Oxford Nanopore's CTO, told BioInform that the firm is looking to hire between 10 and 12 bioinformaticians and software developers, which would increase the current informatics workforce by 40 percent. Currently, the firm has about 20 people on its information technology staff.

The programming team will initially focus on enabling the Accelrys NGS collection for Pipeline Pilot to work with GridIon data, but will also serve as an application and customer support office once that project is complete, Brown said.

Accelrys launched its NGS collection in February and then a month later announced that it would partner with the sequencing firm to develop "nanopore-specific" workflows for Pipeline Pilot that will enable secondary and higher-level data analysis for Oxford Nanopore's platform at the time of its commercial release (BI 03/18/2011).

Brown said the team will work on developing algorithms for data analyses and will enable Pipeline Pilot to "talk to" the sequencers. The group will also work with customers and early adopters of the platform on application-specific analyses.

Brown explained that the team will build different analysis modules in Pipeline Pilot, work with Accelrys to test them, and roll them out as part of a package deal offered to customers that will provide an off-the-shelf solution for users.

These new developments to Pipeline Pilot will include workflows for ChIP-seq, RNA-seq, and metagenomics data analysis, Brown said.

In addition, he said, the team will work on developing customized aligners and assemblers for the long reads produced by the GridIon sequencer as well as customized viewers to explore things like base analogs.

While the firm is open to working with other software vendors to adapt their software for GridIon, Brown said Oxford Nanopore selected the Accelrys platform because of its "modular" nature, which makes it easily adaptable to the "fragmented" and constantly changing face of next-generation sequence analysis.

Richard Carter, Oxford Nanopore's senior scientist for applications and bioinformatics, expressed similar sentiments to BioInform in an interview at Accelrys North American user group meeting in May (BI 05/20/2011).

During the interview, Carter noted that although Accelrys is a newcomer to the NGS space, it's not a newcomer to data analysis, adding that the company offers "flexible systems that adapt very rapidly" — unlike some competing platforms that have a more "rigid framework."

Currently, Oxford Nanopore doesn’t have any plans to open a similar bioinformatics hub in the US, although Brown said it is a possibility.

Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioInform? Contact the editor at uthomas [at] genomeweb [.] com.

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