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Qiagen Partners with SAP to Develop Informatics for Sequence Assembly, Variant Identification

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As part of a new strategy aimed at capturing a share of the next-generation sequencing market, Qiagen is partnering with German software development firm SAP to develop tools to align genomic sequences and to identify mutations based on reference data.

Qiagen disclosed the SAP partnership last week as part of a broad strategic initiative that included the purchase of privately held next-generation sequencing firm Intelligent Bio-Systems for an undisclosed amount. The company said that the IBS purchase and SAP partnership will allow it to develop a complete "sample-to-result" workflow for next-gen sequencing that will include sample preparation and assay products as well as informatics.

Qiagen said that it will use SAP's Hana analytics platform to develop new data analysis capabilities for NGS, but is keeping details of the planned bioinformatics pipeline close to its chest for now.

Bettina Haedrich, a director in Qiagen's corporate business development arm, told BioInform that the company has begun developing the platform with SAP but she could not disclose any specifics.

Qiagen will provide details about the entire system and its launch timeline early next year, at which time it will also disclose how it intends to market its tool suite, Haedrich said.

Qiagen representatives told BioInform that the company selected SAP for the job because of a previous relationship between the firms — Qiagen uses the SAP Hana platform internally — as well as SAP's expertise in developing applications for processing and analyzing data in real time.

The partners will use the SAP Hana platform to "significantly" reduce the time required to analyze sequencing data, Qiagen said.

Hana is an implementation of SAP's in-memory database technology, which stores and processes data in the computer's main memory. The platform has four components: the in-memory database management system; a suite of tools for modeling; an appliance version of the database management system; and a cloud-based infrastructure that can be used to deliver applications.

Qiagen representatives explained that unlike most data-processing technologies, which retrieve information from hard disks prior to processing, SAP Hana holds data in the computer's main memory and lets users process data where it lies, which speeds the analysis process.

Haedrich told BioInform that SAP's technology has been used to speed up applications in some areas up to 100 times faster than standard implementations of those applications.

She described Hana as an "enabling" technology that has the capability to accelerate the analysis of large datasets, which, she pointed out, is still a "time-limiting" step in sequencing projects.

To date, Hana is primarily used for business applications such as finance, marketing, procurement, sales, and supply chain analytics, so the move into bioinformatics analysis will mark a departure for SAP. The company could not be reached for comment about its development plans before press time.

Commenting on Qiagen's decision to work with SAP even though their software hasn’t been used in the life sciences before, Haedrich noted that it isn't "always ...the obvious solution that really presents a benefit in the end. SAP is working on a broad range of these kinds of questions to speed up data analysis and so we see that it's an interesting case to explore."

While informatics development is an important aspect of Qiagen's new NGS strategy, it is only one component of a broad plan to tackle the sequencing market from several angles.

For example, the company plans to offer preconfigured sequencing panels for use in cancer, beginning with eight different cancer panels for leukemias and solid tumors. It also plans to enable customers to create bespoke sequencing panels that target specific pathways and diseases. The panels will be based on existing molecular content at Qiagen, including GeneGlobe, an online portal that provides access to more than 60,000 molecular assays.

The company also plans to launch a range of NGS sample prep products and an NGS benchtop sequencer, which is currently in late-stage development at IBS and is expected to enter beta testing this year.

The sequencer will be designed with an eye toward clinical applications. Its features will include the ability to process up to 20 individual samples or assay types in parallel without a need for pooling and bar-coding. It will also allow users to upload flow cells and reagents while it is operation.

Qiagen is also developing two automation alternatives that will work with its platforms as part of the sequencing portfolio. These include a workflow that integrates the NGS module into the QIAsymphony automation family, and a second workflow based on the QIAcube automated sample preparation system.

Both of these workflows will offer "extensive bioinformatics," including tools developed through its collaboration with SAP, Qiagen said.

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