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Life Tech-Febit Alliance Will Use HybSelect, SOLiD in New Targeted-Resequencing Service

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By Justin Petrone

Life Technologies and Febit this week said they plan to offer targeted resequencing services using Febit's chip-based HybSelect sequence-capture application with Life Tech's SOLiD sequencing system.

As part of the deal, Heidelberg, Germany-based Febit will install "several" of Life Tech's SOLiDs and real-time PCR systems in its genomic services facility. The companies said they expect the service to process around 1,000 samples per week by the first half of next year.

For Life Tech, which last week inked a similar deal with Agilent, the Febit alliance could "close a gap for highly efficient and accurate resequencing of genomic loci that are possibly correlated with disease," Shaf Yousaf, president of Life Tech’s genomics-analysis business, said in a statement.

For Febit, which also becomes a member of Life Tech's SOLiD and TaqMan service-provider programs, the deal could give it an edge over such rivals as Agilent Technologies, Fluidigm, LC Sciences, RainDance Technologies, and Roche NimbleGen.

For instance, Febit could use the deal as a springboard to attracting larger-scale, clinical studies that require the targeted resequencing of thousands of samples, Peer Stähler, Febit's chief scientific officer, told BioArray News this week.

"What gets us and [Life Tech unit] ABI excited is that this approach is scalable to thousands, not dozens, of samples," Stähler said. "We have positioned ourselves with a focus in larger-scale studies where you are looking on the genomic scale. But it's not half [of a] genome you are sequencing; it is points in the genome you are sequencing in hundreds and thousands of patients."

One factor driving Febit's forecast for larger-scale projects is the ability to use barcoding techniques with the SOLiD system, which could enable users to interrogate up to 256 samples in a single run.

"We have established very good proof of principle already," Stähler said of the technique. "When you use barcodes, you can process many more samples on one instrument than if you just used unlabeled samples. Processing 1,000 samples per week should be a reasonable goal for the first half of 2010."

'Powerhouse'

Febit earlier this year debuted the HybSelect application, whose original protocol was designed to be used with Illumina's Genome Analyzer second-generation sequencer (see BAN 2/17/2009).

HybSelect runs on Febit's Geniom system, which combines microarray-based enrichment with microfluidics on an automated instrument. The Geniom comprises eight segregated arrays within a single microfluidic biochip that enable parallel, hands-off sample processing, according to the company.

Febit is currently developing a higher-density biochip that will be available via HybSelect. The biochip that Febit currently uses for HybSelect provides 1.25 megabases of data per array, meaning that each biochip can offer 10 megabases of data for the user. Febit is planning to raise its array density to offer a 32-megabase biochip in a second version of the chip due next quarter, followed by a 240-megabase biochip by the first quarter of 2010 (see BAN 5/26/2009).

Stähler said that the company finished developing a sequence-capture protocol for the SOLiD in August, and acquired its first SOLiD at the time. The company, which had no sequencers installed before its SOLiD protocol development, expects to have another SOLiD installed within the next few weeks, Stähler said.

According to Stähler, it is possible that Febit could add more SOLiDs next year depending on demand. He said the service "will be an excellent showcase for Febit and ABI's technology. It will be a unique powerhouse where target enrichment and sequencing will be on display at one site."

Febit also plans to replicate the setup at customer sites. "We'll roll out our instruments together," Stähler said. "Our enrichment instrumentation will be a component part of the complete process chain in SOLiD facilities," he said.

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Febit's deal with Life Tech is not exclusive, which enables the company to continue marketing HybSelect to Genome Analyzer users. "It will strengthen abilities to interact with both companies," Stähler said. "We can still interact with other users."

Though it has attracted interest from a number of companies, it is difficult to estimate the size of the market for targeted resequencing applications. Companies do not break out sales for individual product lines, and most offerings have been in the market only since the beginning of this year.

Stähler said that Febit has been "extremely busy" handling HybSelect projects, but that it is taking time for customers to design projects that make optimal use of the technology.

"We have more project inquiries than we can handle, but a lot of people are creating project ideas that are difficult to address," Stähler said. He predicted that the market will continue to grow as users get a better handle on how to best use sequence capture.

He also said the company has seen a diverse customer base. "It is not only big genome centers that are interested in this technology, but other academic labs, especially those involved in clinical studies," Stähler said. "It's not a routine business yet, but it is developing much faster than we anticipated."

Founded in 1998 and restructured in 2005, Febit sells instruments, such as its Geniom system and benchtop Geniom RT Analyzer; applications, including HybSelect, microRNA and gene-expression profiling; and services. The company has also founded a subsidiary, Febit SynBio, to commercialize synthetic genes (see BAN 4/14/2009).

Stähler said that right now Febit is most focused on the target enrichment and miRNA-profiling markets, and that the two markets complement each other. "We are putting our efforts about 60/40 in HybSelect and miRNA," Stähler said. "They are being positioned for the same market; for clinically oriented studies."

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