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Roche Expands LightCycler Portfolio with Low-Throughput, Benchtop qPCR Instrument

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By Ben Butkus

Roche is preparing to launch a low-throughput, 32-well-format real-time PCR instrument and has inked a worldwide, exclusive OEM agreement with the UK's IT-IS Life Sciences for commercial manufacture of the platform, the company said late last week.

The new instrument, called the LightCycler Nano, will complete Roche's LightCycler portfolio on the low end, complementing the company's LightCycler 480 (which supports 96- or 384-well formats) and LightCycler 1536 real-time PCR systems, Robertus van Miltenburg, international business leader at Roche Diagnostics, told PCR Insider this week.

"We see a great interest for instruments with lower than 96-well throughputs for a range of applications," van Miltenburg said. "Even on installed 96-well instruments we regularly see that the average number of samples per run is far below the capacity of the instruments."

"Since building an instrument with lower throughput can be done at significantly lower costs in comparison to higher-throughput instruments, we want to address this throughput segment with an instrument at much lower cost for the user," van Miltenburg added.

Roche did not disclose a potential list price for the LightCycler Nano, which will be presented to the public in the coming weeks and begin shipping worldwide in the "early summer," van Miltenburg said.

However, van Miltenburg highlighted some features of the instrument that will differentiate it from other low-throughput real-time PCR systems on the market.

"Regardless of the lower throughput it is important that the instrument delivers high-quality data as for all LightCycler systems," van Miltenburg said. "Historically, Roche has put great effort in ensuring excellent reproducibility and homogeneity. With the LightCycler Nano instrument this is achieved in a 32-well format."

Contributing to this performance, he said, are "tight thermal control" and an optical system containing no moving parts. The platform will be capable of covering the "entire spectrum" of applications, including high-resolution melting," he said.

Roderic Fuerst, CEO of IT-IS Life Sciences, which will be manufacturing the platform for Roche, noted that the Nano's full-spectrum optics provide "complete spectral data at every data acquisition," giving users an "unprecedented insight on changes in reporter spectra during PCR and great flexibility in dye use."

Fuerst echoed van Miltenburg's comments about the solid-state optics sans moving parts contributing to high sensitivity and reliability; and also noted that the platform is "ecologically friendly" because it consumes less power than any other comparable instrument and is even able to be run on a battery.

Lastly, both van Miltenburg and Fuerst highlighted the fact that the Nano is extremely quiet and small, making it unobtrusive in the lab; and that it is compatible with a vast array of disposable labware and features user-friendly and fast software that can be run on multiple operating systems.

In IT-IS Life Sciences, which along with IT-IS International comprises the IT-IS group, Roche has found an OEM partner with development capabilities spanning materials science, optics, electronics, mechanical design, automation, and software, according to Fuerst.

The privately held company, which was founded in 2004 and has operations in the UK and Ireland, focuses on developing "novel bioanalytical systems," Fuerst said.

The relationship between IT-IS and Roche dates back to 2004, "when, as part of Roche's exploration of next-generation sequencing, IT-IS was tasked with developing computational methods for inferring sequence data from high-throughput mass spectroscopy," Fuerst said.

This eventually led to additional collaborations in the PCR space, including IT-IS developing a 1,536-well plate for use on the LightCycler 1536. "Subsequently, IT-IS was invited to participate in a project run by Roche to identify novel design approaches for real-time PCR instruments," Fuerst said.

Additional terms of the OEM agreement between Roche and IT-IS were not disclosed.


Have topics you'd like to see covered in PCR Insider? Contact the editor at bbutkus [at] genomeweb [.] com.

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