This week Roche said that it would be making a series of upgrades and improvements to its GS Junior system over the next year.
A new software package and protocols for paired-end sequencing to enable multiplexing are available immediately. Longer read lengths and automation of the library preparation and the emulsion PCR workflow will be available in late 2012 or early 2013.
The announcement came shortly after the company reported that revenues from its genomic analysis business — the segment of its Applied Science group that includes its 454 sequencing business and NimbleGen array business — fell 15 percent in the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2011, excluding currency effects.
While the company did not provide financial details for the genomic analysis business, it said in its first-quarter earnings presentation that the decline was due to "reduced research funding and competitive pressures." Applied Sciences total revenues decreased 8 percent year-over-year to 183 million CHF ($200 million).
Additionally, 454 customers have reported problems with the company's upgrade to its GS FLX to offer long reads (see story, same issue). The company declined to comment on the impact of these issues on its first-quarter revenues, but said previously that delays in adoption of the new chemistry impacted reagent sales in the fourth quarter of 2011 (IS 2/7/2011).
Despite the issues with the long-read upgrade for its GS FLX platform, the company is planning to introduce longer reads to its Junior system as well.
Along with the automation of the library prep workflow, these upgrades are designed to "make our long read sequencing solution more user friendly and enable customers to convert projects from Sanger to next-generation more easily," Thomas Schinecker, president of 454 Life Sciences, said in a statement.
Since the launch of the Junior in May 2010, the benchtop system has been a bright spot in Roche's genomic analysis business. For 2011, the company saw double-digit growth of instrument and reagent sales for the GS Junior over 2010, though overall revenues for the genomic analysis business fell 11 percent for the year.
The company declined to comment on sales trends for the GS Junior in the first quarter of 2012.
Like its competitors in the benchtop sequencing market, Life Technologies' Ion Torrent PGM and Illumina's MiSeq, the Junior costs less than its larger counterpart and has a faster turnaround time, making it better suited for clinical use. The system costs around $100,000 and produces around 35 megabases of data with 400-base pair reads in a 10-hour run.
Unlike Illumina and Life Technologies, which have said they plan to take their respective benchtops through US Food and Drug Administration 510(k) clearance, Roche has not provided any guidance on its regulatory plans for the Junior.
The company is, however, developing disease-focused research products that will work on both the Junior and the GS FLX, including GS GType primer sets for TET2, CBL, and KRAS genes for leukemia research, which it plans to launch this year, according to its first-quarter presentation.
Last year, the company launched the GS GType HLA MR and HR kits for HLA typing as research-use-only products, but said it planned to eventually file an application with the FDA along with a sequencing platform that would be similar to its current technology (CSN 4/5/2011).
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