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Life Technologies CEO Defends Price for Ion Torrent, Dismisses Illumina's PCR System

By Tony Fong

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Disputing the notion that it paid too high of a price for Ion Torrent, Life Technologies CEO Greg Lucier defended the acquisition — which could cost as much as $725 million — saying that Ion Torrent's technology will "revolutionize the whole genetic testing market."

Speaking at the UBS Global Life Sciences Conference today, Lucier commented on his firm's purchase of Ion Torrent in August, saying that the deal helps build out Life Tech's sequencing technology portfolio.

Ion Torrent's technology measures the release of hydrogen ions as nucleotides are incorporated by DNA polymerase, and unlike other second-generation sequencing platforms, does not require lasers, cameras, or labels. Excluding sample preparation time, according to Life Tech officials, run time on the instrument is approximately four hours.

The speed of the platform, and the straight-forward methods enabled in the technology, Lucier said, will help make sequencing technology available for different applications and users that otherwise may not have access to it. The technology, he said, will start "democratizing sequencing."

Asked whether the $725 million price it paid — $375 million in cash and up to $350 million in milestone payments — was too steep, Lucier said that that will remain to be seen, but if the technology achieves all that Life Tech believes it can it will "revolutionize the whole genetic testing market."

The Ion Torrent platform, called the Personal Genome Machine, a benchtop instrument currently used by early-access customers, remains on target to be available in the fourth quarter, he said, and will sell for $50,000. The sample prep platform, probably the EZ Bead system, also is priced at $50,000.

Lucier also called the PGM the start of multigenerational products stemming from the Ion Torrent deal and mentioned that he envisions adapting the technology for single-molecule sequencing, which would put it in direct competition with Pacific Biosciences, which expects to launch its RS single-molecule, real-time platform in the first quarter of 2011, as well as the struggling Helicos Biosciences.

Lucier added that Life Tech's efforts at developing a single-molecule sequencing platform, outside of Ion Torrent, continues and has had "terrific progress."

In addition to talking about its sequencing business, Lucier took a swipe at Illumina's new PCR business and the Eco Real-Time PCR System launched in July, when Illumina bought PCR instruments firm Helixis. Life Tech is the major market player in the PCR space.

Earlier this week at the conference, Illumina CEO Jay Flatley said that the $13,900 price tag for Eco would free researchers to purchase a PCR instrument all for themselves and not have to share a platform. He added that the instrument competes with other systems selling for $50,000.

Lucier, however, dismissed the Eco system, calling it a "me-too" technology. Life Tech offers PCR systems that cover all price points, including the StepOne real-time PCR system that offers the same capabilities as Eco, Lucier said.

Lastly, Lucier said that with the different platforms in its product portfolio, it may eventually lead to the development of diagnostics tests.

"This is an area of real growth for us," Lucier said.

On potential acquisitions, he said that Life Tech does not anticipate doing any large deals over the next several quarters, with any acquisitions expected to be limited to about $100 million.

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