Roche this week launched the LightCycler 96 real-time PCR instrument, the latest in the company's line of LightCycler-branded qPCR systems for life science research.
The new instrument incorporates many of the best features of Roche's existing LightCycler systems, and "closes a very important gap" in the LightCycler portfolio by offering researchers a platform in the "mid-price" segment of the markets, according to company officials.
Gerd Haberhausen, head of qPCR and sample preparation systems for Roche, told PCR Insider this week that the LightCycler 96 is the culmination of Roche's approximately 15 years of qPCR instrumentation experience.
The company's current portfolio of LightCycler products includes the LightCycler 480, which allows users to switch between a 96- and 384-well plate format, and can be integrated with laboratory automation systems; the LightCycler 1536, the company's highest throughput and most expensive system; and the LightCycler Nano, a 32-well format instrument that Roche introduced last year as an inexpensive option primarily for the academic research market (PCR Insider, 6/2/2011).
"And now with the launch of LightCycler 96, we are closing a very important gap in our portfolio, and that is a 96-well block format … in the mid-price segment, so around $30,000," Haberhausen said.
Haberhausen did not elaborate on pricing for the other Roche LightCycler platforms, but noted that the LightCycler 480, while offering many of the same technological innovations as the 96, is more expensive primarily because of the flexible block design and LIMS connectivity, allowing to be run in "a very automated fashion."
"With the LightCycler 96, now we have a really complete portfolio from the very low-end Nano model up to the very high-end 1536," he added.
Roche introduced the LightCycler 96 at the American Society for Human Genetics annual meeting this week in San Francisco.
One of the key new innovations on the platform is redesigned software that is designed to provide "guided navigation" for first-time users as well as full analytical capabilities for more experienced users, the company said.
In addition, Roche said that data generated by the system can be analyzed directly or remotely "for translation to publication-ready results in line with" the Minimum Information for Publication of Quantification Experiments, or MIQE, guidelines.
Haberhausen said that the software implements the real-time PCR data markup language, or RDML, file format, "which is probably not used so much in the US, but is very popular, and becoming more so on a global level." RDML was designed to be a universal file format for real-time PCR data, and is "very much promoted by … key opinion leaders in the qPCR area," Haberhausen said, a fact borne out by supporters listed on the RDML Consortium website.
Another innovation included in the LightCycler 96 is a silver block designed to provide a high degree of temperature homogeneity and uniformity, thus improving data consistency and accuracy.
"This allows us to deliver very high temperature accuracy in terms of … deviation from the target temperature … but also offers excellent temperature homogeneity and uniformity across the block," which is particularly important for customers performing high-resolution melting analysis, Haberhausen said. The instrument specifications list this temperature accuracy as +/- 0.2° Celsius from the target temperature.
Yet another innovation is the instrument's 96 individual glass optical fibers ensuring "equal and simultaneous data capture from all 96 wells, while avoiding the signal variations commonly seen in systems that use optical scanning detection," the company said. The system is also calibration-free, as it does not require a passive reference dye.
All told, "there are not necessarily groundbreaking new technologies and innovations being implemented in this instrument," Haberhausen said. "It's more the combination of all the experience and technologies of all the [LightCycler] platforms combined into one instrument."
Flavia Huygens, an associate professor at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, said in a statement provided by Roche that from what she saw during a recent instrument demonstration, "it seems this instrument has taken the positives of other instruments and put it into one."
Huygens also noted that the LightCycler 96 seems to cater to both high-end research customers and more casual users, such as instructors in teaching laboratories for students.
Haberhausen declined to provide sales figures for Roche's various LightCycler models, either independently or relative to one another. However, he noted that "the biggest segment of the total qPCR market, probably 50 percent or maybe even 60 percent, is in that 96-well block format, where we now basically have two offerings: The LightCycler 96 and the 480, for users that demand more automation."
In general, he added, both of those models tend to be purchased by academic and corporate researchers; while the Nano is primarily sold to academic users and the 1536 to applied markets and pharmaceutical research, discovery, and quality control.