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JPM Conference: NanoString Developing Novel Sequencing Chemistry Based on Optical Barcoding

SAN FRANCISCO (GenomeWeb) – At the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference here today, NanoString Technologies CEO Brad Gray said that the firm has been developing a novel single-molecule hybridization-based sequencing chemistry that leverages the company's optical barcoding technology.

Gray declined to provide details on the chemistry, which he dubbed Hyb&Seq, but said that it would be single-molecule, based on hybridization, and would not require amplification, the use of enzymes, or even library prep.

The chemistry is especially "tuned for clinical workflows," particularly the cancer market, and will focus on targeted sequencing, Gray said. He also noted that the company will present additional details on the chemistry at next month's Advances in Genome Biology and Technology meeting in Orlando, Florida.

NanoString has enlisted the Institute of Systems Biology's Leroy Hood, the Broad Institute's Chad Nusbaum, and University of Washington's Jay Shendure as scientific advisors for the technology. Joe Beechem, NanoString's senior vice president of R&D, led development of the technology, Gray said.

An eventual product based on the chemistry is still "several years in the future," Gray said. Thus far the company has focused on developing the chemistry and has now reached a proof of concept. The ultimate instrument will be a new product developed by NanoString that is based on the same principles and components as the nCounter system, Gray said.

Aside from the Hyb&Seq technology, Gray unveiled another R&D initiative that would incorporate spatial context with gene expression to create a 2D picture of gene expression, for instance from a formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue sample.

The technology could "build a picture of exactly how protein expression varies from site to site" across the FFPE sample, Gray said. Thus far, the firm's researchers have demonstrated the ability to do this for up to 36 proteins at once. Essentially, Gray said, the technology uses the same antibodies with optical barcodes that it uses in its traditional proteomic assays and then lays them on an FFPE slice and uses a photocleavable linker to collect the barcodes that elute off of each region. The backend is the firm's nCounter, which simply counts those barcodes, Gray said.

He said that the technology will be "critical for immuno-oncology applications," an area that will be a major focus of NanoString in the future. He also noted that data on this technology would be presented this year at a scientific conference

Gray said that these two programs are still in the early stages of development. For 2016, the firm has several more-concrete goals, including advancing its new 3D Biology technology, continuing its push into the immuno-oncology space, expanding its customer base with the nCounter Sprint instrument, and capturing opportunities in the diagnostic space.

The 3D Biology chemistry, which NanoString launched last September, enables researchers to analyze DNA, RNA, and proteins from the same sample at the same time.

By the end of 2016, Gray said the firm will have launched 15 new 3D Biology products — three DNA panels, three protein panels, and nine RNA panels. The 3D Biology technology will also help the firm move further into the immuno-oncology space because, he said, the technology is "well-tuned to the unique biomarker needs of immuno-oncology," which requires more than just a specific mutation. With immuno-oncology, researchers "need to understand both what's driving the tumor and also the status of the immune system, which is more proteomics-driven," he said.

On the diagnostic front, Gray said that the firm will continue to grow its Prosigna breast cancer assay and also "lay the groundwork for additional collaborations" for companion diagnostics. In 2015, it announced deals with Merck and with Medivation and Astellas Pharma.

Gray said the firm expects that the nCounter Sprint system will open up what was previously an untapped market — that of the individual researcher interested in NanoString's technology but unable to afford the larger, more expensive nCounter Max.

In 2015, 70 percent of nCounter Sprint sales were to new users, Gray said. Since launching the platform last August, NanoString has sold 20 nCounter Sprint instruments, 14 of which were in the fourth quarter. Across all of its product lines, the company sold more than 100 total instruments in 2015 and maintained an average consumable pull-through of over $100,000 per system, Gray said. Those sales helped drive total 2015 revenues of between $61.5 million and $62.5 million, which the firm pre-reported earlier this week.

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