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Life Technologies Unveils First Entry in Next Generation of PCR Instruments

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By Ben Butkus

Life Technologies this week introduced a new real-time PCR instrument platform that company officials said has been built from the "ground up" and is intended to serve as the template for all forthcoming platforms for the next decade.

The company introduced the platform, called the ViiA 7 real-time PCR system, at an event held Sunday as part of the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Washington, DC.

"It's a completely new platform, built new from the ground up," John Gerace, vice president and general manager of PCR systems for Life Tech, told PCR Insider in an interview before the event.

"The strategic intent is to have this be the platform from which all derivatives would follow for the next decade," Gerace added. "It's literally a multi-generation product plan, and this is the first of its kind."

Gerace said that the ViiA 7, which will be available in June, is designed to be a "higher-end" instrument than the company's current crop of PCR platforms — which include the ABI 7500 Fast and 7900HT Fast real-time PCR systems and which are legacy platforms from the Applied Biosystems business.

The ViiA 7 will still target similar markets — namely academic and pharmaceutical basic research labs — as the aforementioned platforms, but is designed for higher throughput, the company said, though it didn't detail how the throughput differs from its current systems.

Gerace did say that the instrument "seamlessly integrates" with the Applied Biosystems TaqMan Custom Array cards, which are 384-well customizable microfluidic cards that enable researchers to perform 384 simultaneous real-time PCR reactions without using liquid-handling robots or multi-channel pipettors. Comparatively, the ABI 7500 Fast system is not compatible with the Custom Array cards; but the 7900 HT Fast system is.

Specific enhancements to the system include a touch-screen user interface for accessing a host of real-time quantitative PCR and genotyping applications; a patent-pending optical system called OptiFlex, which provides sufficient sensitivity to detect a single copy of starting genetic material and also enables enhanced multiplexing; new system software for integrating a variety of applications; and automated sample loading, according to Life Tech.

Gerace declined to provide additional details about the OptiFlex feature due to its patent-pending status, offering only that "it's a novel optics design that helps us with performance, multiplexing, and really nice consistency between instruments."

Meantime, the new software is designed to integrate real-time PCR applications such as nucleic acid quantification, SNP detection, copy-number detection, high-resolution melting, protein analysis with proximity ligation, and gene expression analysis directly from cultured cells without RNA purification.

"It really extends the usability and convenience factor," Gerace said. "It's very anthropological. A lot of what we call user-centered innovation went into the software."

Several undisclosed customers have already beta-tested the ViiA 7 and provided "great feedback" to Life Tech, Gerace said.

"We didn't just give an instrument to these sites," he added. "As part of our design, we shipped an instrument to a customer and watched the whole workflow, from when the instrument showed up at the loading dock; to when they used it; gave us feedback; and shipped it back, because these were early-access instruments. There are no instruments being used now in the field."

Gerace added that the company was demonstrating the ViiA 7 at AACR, and would be able to give customers a price quote at the event and take pre-orders. Like the company's other PCR instruments, the ViiA 7 will be manufactured in Life Tech's Singapore facility, and the first models are expected to be ready to ship in June.

As the company's highest end PCR instrument, Gerace confirmed that the ViiA 7 will carry a higher price tag than any of Life Tech's current platforms, though he did not disclose a specific list price.

"For anybody in pharma or large labs at academic institutions, or core labs, this would be a great fit," Gerace said.

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