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WaferGen to Launch Early Access Program for Single-Cell Applications of SmartChip Technology


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – WaferGen will create an early access program to develop single-cell genomics applications for its SmartChip technology, which the firm hopes will become the focal point of its business.

"We envision that this would be our flagship product," WaferGen CEO Ivan Trifunovich told GenomeWeb. "Increased throughput and reduced costs will be a huge value proposition. This will probably be our most important product and we are putting lots of resources and R&D behind it."

WaferGen and its partner BGI announced this week that they had demonstrated proof of concept that the technology could be used for single-cell analysis. The SmartChip instrument sorts cells and, ideally, places one cell into each of 5,184 nanoliter wells. Cells are lysed and ligation is performed to prepare the sample for sequencing. 

"BGI has developed a robust system for preparing single-cell genome and transcriptome sequencing libraries on a SmartChip, which we have found to be an ideal technology for single-cell analysis," Xun Xu, VP of R&D at BGI, said in a statement. "We intend to use it in our day-to-day operations, and also offer it as a service to our customers."

Trifunovich said that the higher throughput could be a big draw for potential customers. "People have been looking for increased throughput. Doing 96 or less cells per round is tedious and doesn't give you a comprehensive picture," he said. Compared to Fluidigm's C1 Single-Cell Auto Prep System, SmartChip offers a 50-fold increase in throughput, which Trifunovich said could reduce the C1's costs of over $20 per cell "by an order of magnitude."

However, Fluidigm has a significant head start in the single-cell genomics market. This week, Fluidigm said that fourth quarter instrument revenue at the company grew 72 percent year over year to $20.8 million driven in part by increased sales of the C1 system.

In addition, new competitors are quickly sprouting up in the single-cell genomics market. For instance, scientists from startup Cellular Research this week published a paper demonstrating the company's method for sequencing-based digital gene expression profiling in thousands of single cells without the need for robotics or microfluidic chips, and plans to launch a platform to perform the method next year.

Despite its new-found emphasis on single-cell genomics, WaferGen envisions it as just another application for the SmartChip technology. "Our platform is very versatile and can do a number of things," including target enrichment for next-generation sequencing and real-time PCR, Trifunovich said.

The move into single-cell genomics sample preparation is complementary to, but not directly related to WaferGen's acquisition of IntgenX's NGS library prep technology.

The firm is launching the SmartChip early access program with select partners, "to kick the tires on it, get some results, and help us tweak the product," Trifunovich said, before it launches the product in the second half of 2015.

The early access program will commence early in the second quarter with somewhere between six to 10 partners. "We would like each thing to be well managed and meaningful for both sides," Trifunovich said. "We don't want to take on an unmanageable number of collaborations. The goal is not to place as many instruments as we can, but to get really high-quality sites and people who are engaged and would publish some papers."

WaferGen is already in talks with several potential partners and will formally announce more details of the program at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology conference in Marco Island, Fla. later this month.