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NanoString Aims to Drive Interest in Spatial Profiling Platform as Reports Roll in From Early Users


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Following the official unveiling of its GeoMx digital spatial profiling instrument at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research last month, NanoString Technologies said this week that it is fielding continued strong interest, as it prepares to install its first systems for this nascent niche of the market.

During the company's first quarter earnings call yesterday, President and CEO Brad Gray said that despite the absence of promotions the firm had offered previously, NanoString still netted an additional 10 orders for the instrument during Q1, bringing its total now to more than 40 signed-on customers.

According to Gray, about two thirds of the company's GeoMx preorders are from academic customers and one third are industrial customers such as biopharma companies and contract research organizations. Hearteningly for NanoString, not all of these entities were already users of its other platforms. About 25 percent of the preorders have "pulled through a new nCounter instrument, with the vast majority of these being our high-throughput system," he said on the call.

Pricing for GeoMx is $295,000, which Gray said is comparable to high-end slide scanners used widely in pathology. The company is launching a menu of validated consumer panels, initially focused on immune-oncology and neuroscience research, with plans to expand over time. The initial portfolio will consist of "six tissue morphology kits for regions of interest selection, 10 modular protein panels spanning 130 protein targets, and one RNA panel that profiles more than 80 key targets in immune-oncology," Gray said.

"We expect the average price per sample for translational research to be about 500 dollars … which is about twice the average revenue per sample that our current customers spend on nCounter panels," he added.

Although the company is only now preparing to install its first commercial systems, early users have had access to GeoMx through a technology access program that was already generating data at this time last year.

"Demand for the TAP has consistently exceeded expectations, and we have now completed more than 90 projects for a diverse set of more than 70 customers," Gray said this week, something that has given NanoString important insight into how customers are likely to use the instrument going forward, and that it incorporated into its development and refinements over the last year.

Gray estimated that close to two thirds of its interaction with potential customers at this year's AACR meeting was driven by GeoMx, with attendees showing interest in the platform's ability to visualize and browse back and forth between high resolution tissue images and deep molecular profiling on the same screen.

"Other capabilities of particular interest were the toolkit for segmenting tissue samples into biological compartments based on cell phenotype, creating separate molecular profiles for the tumor versus the microenvironment," Gray said.

Aside from commercial launch activities, AACR also played host to 13 scientific studies that used GeoMx, including from research customers and biopharma users.

Presentations included a poster by investigators at MD Anderson that reported on a study using GeoMx for targeted protein expression profiling to explore the activity of B cells in response to immune checkpoint blockade in patients with high-risk melanoma. "While treatment with immune checkpoint blockade has markedly improved outcomes in advanced melanoma patients and other malignancies, predicting response remains a challenge. Biomarkers including tumor mutational burden, T-cell infiltration, and PD-L1 expression, have been identified but remain inadequate," authors wrote.

Other components of innate and adaptive immunity, including B-cells and tertiary lymphoid structures, have been implicated in the response to other cancer therapies, and this is what the group aimed to explore in their study. Investigators analyzed formalin-fixed paraffin embedded tissue sections from tumor samples in 10 drug responders and 10 non-responders, staining with a group of antibodies to define spatial regions of interest with defined immune cell populations, and then analyzing unique expression patterns for those regions.

The results identified B cells as components of tertiary lymphoid structures and found specific subsets of B cells present within the TLS that were associated with response.

Another poster described work by NanoString and Janssen Pharmaceuticals evaluating the DSP platform in comparison to standard IHC, in cell lines, PBMCs, and FFPE lung cancer tumor samples, concluding that GeoMx is a promising option for multiplexed analysis of tumor tissues, having produced measurements comparable to those obtained with flow cytometry and IHC for the markers evaluated.

A third study, with H3 Biomedicine, applied GeoMx to samples from muscle-invasive bladder cancer. Investigators used the NanoString platform to measure the PPARγ pathway, which has been found to contribute to underlying immune evasion in MIBC.

Testing samples from a cohort of PPARγHigh and PPARγLow muscle invasive bladder cancer samples, investigators compared RNA-seq, spatial in situ hybridization using GeoMx, and NanoString's IO360 panel. All the approaches were able to accurately characterize immune phenotypes of PPARγHigh tumors, but GeoMx offered advantages in limited or precious samples in being able to digitally quantify target abundance while maintaining spatial resolution," the authors wrote.

Among other studies, NanoString also shared data at the meeting on its application of GeoMx to the detection of immune-related signatures differentially expressed in the tumor microenvironment of microsatellite -instable versus stable colorectal tumors.

In parallel with the launch of GeoMx last month, NanoString also announced a trio of partnerships that the firm believes "build an ecosystem of technologies to automate the workflow and expand consumable content" for its platform.

Speaking yesterday, Gray elaborated on how the company believes it will benefit from the three collaborations. The deal with Leica Biosystems gives NanoString "instantaneous access to a customer base of over a thousand installed BOND RX systems," along which it can now market GeoMx.

"The Bio-Techne partnership also provides entry to a very large number of enthusiastic customers," he added. NanoString and Bio-Techne only began "coordinated efforts" to optimize kits a week or two ago, but Gray said that the company plans to embed kit offerings in prototype form in a technology-access context "beginning immediately."

He reiterated that NanoString is on track to begin installing the preordered GeoMx systems beginning in the third quarter of this year and expects to get 25-30 instruments set up by the end of the year with the balance fulfilled in 2020.