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Oxford Nanopore Outlines Specs for New Sequencers, Automated Sample Prep System, Pay-As-Go Pricing

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This article has been updated with additional information from Oxford Nanopore's website and from a company representative's presentation.

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) — Oxford Nanopore Technologies today provided previews of new nanopore sensing technologies it has been developing, including a new version of the MinIon to be released in 2016, the PromethIon, and an automated sample preparation system called Voltrax.

Oxford Nanopore Chief Technology Officer Clive Brown reported the updates during a talk at a company-organized meeting in London on Thursday. Oxford Nanopore, which did not allow reporters access to the event, made parts of the presentation available through its Twitter feed and posted information about some of the new products on its website.

The company has been developing an automated sample preparation system called Voltrax that is designed to take a biological sample as input and convert it into a library for use in nanopore-sensing applications, such as DNA sequencing. While DNA sequencing has been the primary application of the company's nanopore technology, it is also able to analyze RNA and proteins.

The microfluidic device, which fits in the palm of a hand and can be attached directly to the MinIon or the PromethIon, is a cartridge containing all required sample prep reagents for a particular sample type and can process multiple nanoliter-sized samples at a time. It was not immediately clear when Voltrax will be available to customers, and the firm declined to provide a list price at this time.

The company has also improved the application-specific integrated circuit, or ASIC, that processes the nanopore signal. The new ASIC will be part of a new version of the MinIon, MkII, which will be released in 2016, as well as part of the PromethIon. It has 3,000 channels and can measure up to 1,000 bases per second, "much more" than the current version, which has 512 channels.

In addition, Oxford Nanopore has separated the nanopore sensing membrane from the ASIC to allow for better control of the two and for improved manufacturing. In the current version of the MinIon, the two are attached to each other. The new so-called 'crumpet' sensing chip, which carries the nanopore chemistry, will be compatible with both the new MinIon MkII and the PromethIon. It will become the disposable part of the hardware, whereas the ASIC will become reusable, allowing sequencing costs to decrease, according to the presentation.

Brown also provided information on the PromethIon, which will provide higher throughput than the MinIon, but is not yet available to customers. The benchtop instrument assembles up to 48 individual flow cells into a box in an array of eight by six, each with a sensor chip that interfaces with a signal processing circuit. A flow cell can take up to four samples and has a total of 3,000 active channels, each recording data from a single nanopore, for a total of up to 144,000 channels per platform.

According to the firm's website, the PromethIon will be introduced through a similar early-access program as the MinIon, which was released about a year ago to a select group of customers. According to the company, the plan is to launch the PromethIon Access Program later this year.

The company has also increased the translocation speed of DNA through the nanopores, resulting in 10 times higher data output for the MinIon — internally, Oxford Nanopore researchers have generated more than 12 gigabases of data from an un-optimized MinIon run. While the sequencing speed is 30 bases per second in normal mode, it is 500 bases per second in fast mode. It was not immediately clear how the increased speed impacts the quality of the sequence data.

With the increased speed, the company anticipates that the current MinIon MkI will be able to generate up to 40 gigabases per run, the MinIon MkII up to 120 gigabases per run, and the PromethIon up to 6.4 terabases per run.

Brown also revealed how Oxford Nanopore plans to charge for its products. Instead of purchasing flow cells and consumables, customers will pay for how long they run the instrument. For each flow cell, they will purchase a minimum run time of initially three hours and can unlock additional hours of sequencing in the MinKnow software program during the run, either on a pay-as-you-go basis or by using up prearranged credit. Each run on a MinIon can take up to two days and users can stop the run once they have acquired sufficient data.

With the MinIon MkI, for example, three hours of sequencing will cost $270 and deliver about 3 gigabses of data in fast mode, while for the MinIon MkII, sequencing for the first hour will cost $20 and generate on the order of 5 gigabases of data, according to several conference participants who tweeted during the presentation. 

Finally, Oxford Nanopore said today that rather than transitioning the MinIon from an early-access program to a full commercial launch, it will continue to make the device available through the MinIon Access Program, MAP. According to the company's website, "the MAP is the means by which Oxford Nanopore is making its products commercially available – interested parties should apply to join the MAP in order to purchase the technology." After being admitted to the program and paying a $1,000 "joining fee," customers can order flow cells and reagent kits online.

The firm plans to "provide greater flexibility with pricing structures than are typically available for bioanalytical machines, including sequencing instruments" and will offer its products "with transparent, consistent volume-based discounts."

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