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Illumina Says Q4 Eco PCR Orders Triple; Buys Epicentre Biotech for Sample Prep Reagents

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Illumina this week provided an update regarding the uptake of its recently launched Eco real-time benchtop PCR system; and bolstered its nucleic acid sample preparation and specialty enzyme business by acquiring Epicentre Biotechnologies.

In a presentation this week at the JP Morgan Global Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, Illumina President and CEO Jay Flatley told attendees that fourth-quarter 2010 orders for the Eco tripled and shipments nearly tripled compared to the third quarter of 2010, when Illumina launched the instrument.

"We've seen very strong demand and great customer feedback on the performance of this system," Flatley said. "We have had some constraints in our supply chain as we've ramped up the manufacturing of this product. We think we're over most of those, so we're really beginning to ramp up production of this, and we have a healthy backlog of orders."

Flatley added that Illumina expects to move manufacturing of the Eco to its Singapore facility this year "and put it under [good manufacturing practice guidelines] in anticipation of this moving more and more toward diagnostic usage." He also said that Illumina's R&D team in 2011 "will be focused largely on developing a reagent stream to go along with this product."

Illumina acquired the Eco over the summer along with nucleic acid-analysis firm Helixis in a deal worth up to $105 million, marking Illumina's foray into the real-time PCR space and giving it a product that it claims delivers the same performance as existing commercial real-time PCR systems at a list price of less than $15,000 (PCR Insider, 7/29/10).

In October, Illumina said as part of its Q3 2010 revenue disclosure that it shipped more than 60 Eco systems in the third quarter, which was the first full quarter since it introduced the platform.

In a separate announcement this week, Illumina said that it has acquired Epicentre Biotechnologies for an undisclosed price.

Epicentre, based in Madison, Wis., provides nucleic acid sample prep reagents and specialty enzymes used in sequencing and microarray applications.

Illumina said that a key component of the acquisition was gaining access to Epicentre's proprietary Nextera technology for next-generation sequencing library preparation, which it said "greatly simplifies genetic analysis workflows and reduces time from sample preparation to answer."

Nextera uses in vitro transposition to prepare sequencer-ready libraries. More specifically, it uses free transposon ends and a transposase to form what it dubs a Transposome complex that, when incubated with target double-stranded DNA, fragments the target while the transferred strand of the transposon end oligonucleotide is covalently attached to the 5' end of the target fragment, according to Epicentre's website.

Nextera can be used to generate di-tagged libraries, with optional barcoding, compatible with Roche/454 or Illumina/Solexa platforms. Platform-specific tags are introduced by 10 cycles of PCR; and the sequencing adaptors enable amplification by emulsion PCR, bridge PCR, and other methods. The amplified library can be subsequently sequenced using the appropriate primers, according to Epicentre.

Illumina said that the technology will allow researchers to prepare sequencer-ready libraries from genomic DNA with less than 15 minutes of hands-on time; and that it requires 10 to 100 times less starting DNA, which enables applications with limited starting material such as tumor biopsies, degraded DNA, or purified DNA.

Illumina also noted that by bringing Epicentre into the fold, it will be "uniquely positioned to offer an end-to-end solution for next-generation sequencing, microarray, and real-time PCR applications."