By Ben Butkus
This article has been updated from a previous version to include comments from NuGen's CEO.
NuGen Technologies and Advanced Liquid Logic said this week that they have signed an exclusive co-development and supply agreement to pair NuGen's nucleic acid sample prep products with ALL's digital microfluidics technology.
In addition, the companies said that they are collaborating with the Broad Institute to develop protocols for next-generation sequencing using the combined technologies, particularly for Illumina sequencing platforms.
The agreement with ALL gives NuGen its first instrumentation platform, named Mondrian SP, to market directly to its customers to streamline and automate its various nucleic acid sample prep reagent kits, all of which will eventually be ported onto the new system, NuGen CEO Elizabeth Hutt told PCR Insider.
"We're now the exclusive supplier of the ALL technology, which will be branded under the Mondrian SP name," Hutt said. "We're their commercial arm into the genomics research space. Any sample prep ahead of NGS, microarrays, or qPCR that we have solutions for can be integrated into the Mondrian SP cartridge and instrumentation to enable a customer's workflow."
Under the agreements, ALL, based in Morrisville, NC, will provide instrumentation, software, and digital microfluidic cartridges to San Carlos, Calif.-based NuGen, which will use them to develop and market the integrated Mondrian SP platform.
The first protocols for the system will focus on NGS library preparation for Illumina sequencing platforms, and will be developed with Broad Institute researchers including the laboratory of Robert Nicol, director of sequencing operations and technology development at the Broad Institute. This protocol is expected to be available in the fourth quarter, Hutt said.
Broad Institute's Nicol said in a statement that the institute is "excited to work with Advanced Liquid Logic and NuGen to improve the performance of current sample prep processes, and develop entirely new genomic capabilities based on the digital microfluidics technology platform."
Future areas of development will incorporate NuGen's existing Ovation RNA-Seq and not-yet-available Encore Amplification-Free NGS Library systems, with product availability also expected by the end of the year, the companies said.
ALL's core technology enables direct electrical manipulation of sub-microliter droplets without pumps, valves, or channels. It markets a benchtop, touchscreen instrument along with disposable cartridges that resemble conventional well plates.
A single cartridge can be configured for multiple sample preparation applications, the company said. For instance, complex protocols involving hundreds or thousands of individual droplet reactions can be performed in sub-microliter volumes, thus reducing sample and reagent requirements. Single instruments can accommodate lower throughputs, and multiple units can be used in tandem with high-throughput robotics for larger workflows, the company said.
ALL has been working to commercialize its technology for use in immunoassays, PCR, clinical chemistry, and sample preparation, among other applications. The company recently won a $150,000 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a microfluidic PCR-based device for assuring DNA quality control in biobanks (PCR Insider, 8/17/11).
"This is truly microfluidics — a small cartridge that enables movements of droplets to mix on one device," Hutt said. A user will only need to "insert a cartridge into the [Mondrian SP], select the application, press go, and walk away. You can come back and have portions or all of your workflow completed," she said.
Customers interested in automating NuGen's sample prep kits will need to buy the benchtop instrument "at a very low cost," Hutt said, without elaborating. Then NuGen will sell "these little disposable cartridges with our reagents, and depending on the number of applications we've enabled — which is just a small modification in the software of the benchtop processors — customers can run that workflow."
NuGen's eventual goal is to port "the majority" of its reagent kits to the Mondrian SP cartridges, Hutt said. "That's what we're going to be doing over the course of the rest of this year and early next year."
Nugen already has sample prep partnerships in place with a number of companies including Roche and Fluidigm, and this year has been particularly busy in the area of sample prep for scant and degraded nucleic acid samples. Examples of companies with which it is collaborating in this field include WaferGen (PCR Insider, 3/24/11), Roche-454 (PCR Insider, 4/7/11), and Caliper Life Sciences (PCR Insider, 1/27/11).
NuGen's agreement with ALL "does not impact any of our other agreements," Hutt said. "We will still be able to move freely with those other partners."
In some cases, existing partnerships will be complementary. For instance, the Mondrian platform will be able to be coupled with higher-throughput automation products such as those offered by Caliper, she said.
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