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Illumina Buys Epicentre Biotechnologies, Launches MiSeq Platform

By Edward Winnick

This article has been updated from a previous version to include addition details from the company's presentation at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference.

SAN FRANCISCO (GenomeWeb News) - Illumina on Tuesday announced several initiatives in conjunction with its presentation at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference held here.

Among those initiatives was the acquisition of privately held Epicentre Biotechnologies, a provider of nucleic acid sample preparation reagents and enzymes used in sequencing and microarray applications; the launch of its new low-cost sequencing platform, called MiSeq; updates on its other sequencing platforms and whole human genome sequencing services; and a planned launch of a new service in the spring.

The firm acquired Epicentre for an undisclosed sum. It said that a key component of the acquisition is Epicentre's Nextera technology for next-generation sequencing library preparation.

"As next-generation sequencing continues to improve in throughput and cost, there's a critical need for sample prep to evolve as well, to lower costs, handle higher sample volumes and reduce both hands-on and overall processing time," Jay Flatley, President and CEO of Illumina, said in a statement. The Nextera technology "provides a step-change improvement in library prep that will translate into greater ease of use, lower costs, and faster turnaround times for sequencing applications," he said.

According to the firm, researchers can use Nextera to prepare sequencing libraries from genomic DNA in less than 15 minutes. By comparison, standard methods for library construction can require several hours of hands-on time.

Illumina added that the Nextera technology requires 10 to 100 times less starting DNA than other methods, which makes it particularly useful for applications with limited starting material, such as tumor biopsies, degraded DNA, or purified RNA.

Flatley said that Illumina expects all of the Madison, Wis.-based firm's employees to remain in their current location, and that Epicentre's development team will continue to create new applications and products.

But the Epicentre buy was only one of the focal points of Flatley's talk. He also noted the firm's Tuesday launch of the MiSeq system, an instrument with a list price of under $125,000 that runs Illumina's existing TruSeq sequencing-by-synthesis chemistry. The platform provides Illumina with a low-end entry in sequencing that it previously lacked.

The company plans to start shipping MiSeq to customers in the third quarter, with full shipments in the fourth quarter, Flatley said at the conference. The system can complete a workflow in a day. MiSeq will perform both single and paired-end sequencing with read lengths of up to 2 x 150 base pairs, which might increase over time. (For more on MiSeq, see GenomeWeb Daily News sister publication In Sequence.)

In addition to the new platform, Flatley said the firm plans to introduce upgrades for both its HiSeq 2000 and HiSeq 1000 platforms in the spring. The HiSeq 2000 will be upgraded to 600 Gb, while the 1000 platform will be upgraded to 300 Gb. In addition, the reagent cost will drop to around $5,000 per genome, while providing what Flatley said is "the most accurate next-generation sequencing" on the market.

Services and Diagnostics

Beyond sequencing, Flatley provided an update on Illumina's diagnostics and services efforts.

He said Illumina has conducted sequencing projects for diagnostics on ovarian and gastric cancers. These efforts have turned up 40 mutations, half of which are novel, for the ovarian cancer study, while the gastric cancer study identified 30 mutations.

Flatley cautioned, though, that "it will be the end of the year before we know what we have."

The firm also launched a whole human genome sequencing service last year. Flatley said Tuesday that the firm currently has a 1,000-genomes backlog for that service. He also said that the firm recently inked a sequencing project with an unidentified pharmaceutical firm comprising several hundred genomes.

Another service in the works and planned for a spring launch is a rare cell capture service that would be performed upfront of sequencing. Flatley provided few details but said that the service is currently being beta tested by four sites. One potential application of the service could be fetal diagnostics, he said.

However, Flatley said that the technology would not be launched as a product yet. He said the firm needs to better understand the technology and customers' needs before deciding whether to develop a product that would go through the regulatory process.