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Illumina Logs 60-Plus Sales of Real-Time PCR System in First Full Quarter of Availability


By Ben Butkus

Amid a 50 percent year-over-year spike in Q3 revenues on strong sales of its latest sequencing platform, Illumina this week also said that it shipped more than 60 of its benchtop Eco real-time PCR systems in the third quarter, the first full quarter since it introduced the platform over the summer.

And while revenues from Eco sales — likely less than $1 million based on the platform's sub-$15,000 list price — are a drop in Illumina's overall revenue bucket of $237.3 million for the third quarter, the company noted that it has received "positive feedback" from customers about the instrument and will begin scaling up production to meet customer demand.

"I’m pleased to report that we have successfully integrated the Helixis team and the Eco launch has gone very well," Illumina President and CEO Jay Flatley told investors during a conference call held this week to discuss the Q3 results.

"To date, we’ve shipped more than 60 units, and are scaling production dramatically in the fourth quarter," Flatley said. "Customers are up and running quickly, and early feedback about the performance of the instrument has been quite positive."

Illumina brought the Eco's predecessor, the Pixo, into its product portfolio when it acquired nucleic acid-analysis firm Helixis over the summer for up to $105 million (PCR Insider, 7/29/10).

The purchase marked Illumina's foray into the burgeoning real-time PCR space and, according to the company, gave it a product that could deliver the same performance as existing commercial real-time PCR systems for about a quarter of the price. Notably, the company trumpeted the platform's list price of $13,900.

More specifically, the Eco features four-color multiplexing, high-resolution melting analysis, use of all standard real-time PCR chemistries, a high degree of data quality and reproducibility and well-to-well uniformity, a bench top footprint of one cubic foot, a 48-well plate format, and an icon-driven software interface with smart default protocols, according to the company.

At a qPCR industry event last month, Illumina representatives provided greater detail on the rebranded platform and especially underscored Eco's amenability to conducting affordable genotyping using high-resolution melt analysis (PCR Insider, 9/16/10).

During the Q3 conference call this week, Flatley further highlighted this feature as an important early application for Eco customers.

"Notably, Eco customers have responded favorably to the high-resolution melt application, which provides higher-quality data without any modification to their existing assays," Flatley said. "High-resolution melt … used to be available only on systems that cost $50,000 or more. The Eco system provides HRM with superior performance at a list price of $13,900."

Flatley also provided investors with a taste of the types of markets, outside of basic research, that Illumina might be able to target with the Eco platform. In response to an analyst's question about whether the platform might have some reach-through into markets such as diagnostics, forensics, or food testing, Flatley said that it was possible, but too early to tell.

"When we bought Helixis they came in with a pretty substantial backlog [of Eco orders]," Flatley said. "They had launched principally through distributors internationally and there was a pretty large backlog. We’re … very early in the stage of deploying it to our own sales force because we need to ramp up the production … before we start taking too many orders. So it’s a little early to comment on what we think the order dynamics are going to look like."

However, Flatley noted that Illumina has received "business development-type interest from food testing and different kinds of markets that are maybe more specialized than your traditional lab."

In addition, he said that Illumina "certainly [has] a built-in opportunity" to sell Eco systems at the front end of the company's HiSeq sequencing platform and genetic analyzers. "Anywhere we’re selling sequencers is an obvious place to sell Ecos," Flatley said.

Regarding the HiSeq product line, the company said this week that its instrument revenues for Q3 increased 45 percent year-over-year to $88 million, primarily due to sales of the HiSeq 2000, the sequencing platform launched by the company earlier this year. Overall, the company had product revenue of $225 million for the quarter, a 49 percent improvement from the same quarter last year.

These sales, combined with a 53 percent spike in consumables revenue to $133 million and a 63 percent increase in service revenues to $13 million, helped Illumina post total revenues of $237.3 million for the three-month period ended Oct. 3, a 50 percent increase over the $158.4 million in revenues it posted in Q3 2009. Analysts had expected the firm to post revenues of $218.2 million.

Illumina said it used approximately $31 million during the quarter for "strategic investments."

Flatley said that these were technology investments that "could play broadly into our platforms." In response to an analyst's question regarding the nature of the investments, he said that the technologies are "not specifically diagnostic," although they could "ultimately be used in diagnostic applications."

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