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Tecan Releases Fully Automated NGS Library Prep Platform for Illumina Systems


BALTIMORE – In a bid to end tedious manual pipetting for next-generation sequencing library prep, Swiss laboratory automation company Tecan launched a new category of liquid handling platform designed to fully automatize the library prep process for Illumina next-generation sequencing platforms.

Tecan claims the new product, MagicPrep NGS, provides "true walkaway automation" while being user-friendly, reliable, and reproducible. The instrument right now can only produce libraries for Illumina sequencing, and it is unclear whether Tecan plans to cater the platform to other sequencing modalities in the short term.

"Our goal was to replace the frustrating NGS library prep process with the simple press-of-a-button system," Tecan life science division Executive VP Klaus Lun said at a virtual launch event the company hosted on LinkedIn.

According to Lun, the hands-on time to start a MagicPrep NGS run is less than 10 minutes, with reagent loading and sample loading as the mere steps.

Lun also touted the high fidelity of the platform, citing that it achieved a greater than 99 percent mean success rate based on internal data, though the company disclosed in fine print that sample quality and variability may have an impact on the success rate. In an interview following the launch, Ashesh Saraiya, Tecan's senior product marketing manager, said the company derived that specific metric from 16 runs of 128 samples using mostly controls.

Christopher Mason, professor of genomics, physiology, and biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine, whose group is one of the early-access testers of MagicPrep, also vouched for the instrument's performance at the virtual launch event.

"The lab is saying really great things," Mason said, adding that the instrument is not only compact enough to fit on the benchtop but also "very simple" to set up. According to him, the total time to initiate the instrument along with training lab members was only about 30 minutes. "It takes sometimes longer to eat a burrito than to get trained on the machine," he noted.

According to Tecan employees answering live questions at the event, the dimensions of the MagicPrep are 23 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 12 inches tall. The entire platform weighs about 44 pounds.

In addition to usability, Mason also attested to the platform's efficiency and reliability. The company said the average turnaround time for the DNA workflow is a little over five hours and over 10 hours for RNA. Echoing this claim, Mason said the instrument is "very fast," adding that the lab can easily achieve two DNA prep runs in a day.

Currently, MagicPrep is designed to accommodate eight samples per batch. Although customers can run each kit with less than eight samples, the unused reagent cannot be reused, Saraiya said. As such, he added that MagicPrep was tailored to meet the market need for lower-throughput automation, and the company is hoping to target researchers who work with NGS but do not have the need or bandwidth to buy large-scale liquid automation platforms.

Concurring with Saraiya's point, Mason said the throughput is "perfect" for doing a pilot set of experiments, and the platform "fills the niche where we need to do a quick prep on a very select set of samples."

Mason also told the live audience that the system worked "very reproducibly" on every sample that his group has tried so far, including controls that are titrated microbial standards.

In an email to GenomeWeb after the event, Mason said his lab has tested a total of 24 samples on MagicPrep so far, including eight RNA and 16 DNA samples. Judging by the fragment size, he said the MagicPrep-made libraries "looked about as good as other systems we've tested." Although he acknowledged that his team is still analyzing the sequencing data to verify the platform does not lead to any cross-contamination or environmental contamination issues.

To that, Saraiya said the sample and reagent components within MagicPrep are self-contained and do not physically come in contact with each other to prevent cross-contamination. He added that the company has also conducted two testing runs using alternating human or bacterial DNA samples within each batch and observed less than 0.005 percent of the sequencing read crossover between the alternative genomes.

In terms of the technical details of the instrument, Saraiya said during the event that the MagicPrep platform doesn't use electrowetting or microfluidics technologies. Instead, it uses "a mixture of novel and proven technology," including a pipetting module for liquid transfers, a Peltier system for incubation and PCR, and magnets for bead purification.

He also said the instrument is only compatible with three proven chemistries from Tecan, namely the Revelo DNA-Seq Mech kit for prefragmented genomic DNA, the Revelo DNA-Seq Enz kit for intact genomic DNA, and the Revelo mRNA-Seq kit for RNA.

Specifically, Saraiya said these kits contain reagent cartridges, where the enzymes and master mixes are pre-aliquoted and stored at -20° C; magnetic beads, which are stored at 4° C, and the sample deck components that contain the wash buffers and other materials and are stored at room temperature. Each workflow also comes with a maximum of 96 sample indexes available.

Tecan recommends the input range for the DNA workflows to be 50 ng to 500 ng and 10ng to 1,000 ng for the mRNA protocol. Meanwhile, Mason said his lab mostly tried 100 nanograms of DNA as the starting material, which led to desirable libraries. But he said the group is about to do a titration series of 1, 10, 25, 50, and 100 ng to test the input limit. "At 100 nanograms, it did fine, and so I think we can push it lower for sure," he added. Meanwhile, Saraiya made it clear that although the company has internally experimented with lower inputs below the recommended range, it's not something that Tecan recommends.

While the company did not explicitly disclose the price tag for the instrument and its consumables during the live event, Saraiya said the list price for MagicPrep is $45,000. In terms of the per-sample cost, he said the DNA workflows currently cost $44 per reaction versus $80 per reaction for the mRNA workflow. He justified the premium with all the consumables—such as tips, wash buffers, beads—as well as the manual labor saved associated with the platform.

While Tecan considers MagicPrep "a game changer" for low-throughput research labs, it remains to see how the instrument will play out in the booming NGS sample prep industry. For instance, Cornell University spinout Inso Biosciences, backed by Pacific Biosciences Cofounder Harold Craighead, was recently established to commercialize nucleic acid extraction and sample prep platforms for long-read sequencing using proprietary technology. Meanwhile, Volta Labs and Miroculus are using electrowetting technology for fully automated NGS library preparation platforms that are sequencing platform agonistic.

In contrast, MagicPrep for now can solely produces libraries for Illumina sequencers, and Saraiya said he could not say whether the instrument will be expanded for other sequencing platforms in the near future. "It's something we're thinking about," he said "We haven't finalized plans on what we would do."

But he said Tecan is definitely planning to broaden the number of applications that the system can provide, such as accommodating samples with lower starting materials. "What we want to do is provide the ability to do low input, degraded samples on the MagicPrep," he said. "That's one of the things that we're working on next."