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BGI's MGI Tech Launches New Sequencing Platforms, Broadens Scope with Diagnostic Ultrasound System

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – MGI Tech, a subsidiary of China's BGI that has been focused on building next-generation sequencing platforms, announced three new sequencing systems at the 12th International Conference on Genomics (ICG-12) in Shenzhen last month — MGISEQ-2000 and MGISEQ-200, which have improved performance over the existing BGISEQ-500 and BGISEQ-50, and MGIFLP, an automated system that integrates sample prep and sequencing.

In addition, the company is branching out into developing healthcare instrumentation for areas outside of molecular diagnostics, announcing a robotic ultrasound system, MGIUS-R3, that it plans to commercialize for prenatal and infectious disease diagnostics in remote areas.

In an interview this week, Hui Jiang, vice president of MGI Tech, provided additional information about the three sequencing platforms and the subsidiary's plans to develop other healthcare equipment.

MGI Tech was formally founded in April 2016, she said, although the group has a longer history that started when BGI acquired Complete Genomics in 2013 and BGI Research began to develop its own benchtop sequencing platforms, the first of which, BGISEQ-500, was launched at the same conference two years ago. In the meantime, that system has been approved by the China Food and Drug Administration and is being used for clinical testing.

Following that launch, she said, "we thought we needed a group to support the sequencers and to co-develop different applications on the sequencing platforms," she said, which led to the founding of MGI Tech last year. Currently, the subsidiary has about 600 employees in China. Most of them are located in Shenzhen, which produces  sequencers for research use, and about 100 in Wuhan, where MGI Tech has a manufacturing facility for clinical sequencing platforms. BGI firm Complete Genomics, based in San Jose, California, is also part of MGI Tech and closely collaborates with the China team for developing new sequencing platforms, she said.

MGI Tech is also developing diagnostic sequencing tests — for example, in September, it partnered with Curetis to develop NGS-based in vitro diagnostics for microbial infections.

Last year at ICG-11, the company launched the BGISEQ-50, a smaller, lower-throughput version of the BGISEQ-500. Both systems use combinatorial probe-anchor synthesis (cPAS) chemistry and DNA nanoball (DNB) technology, originally developed by Complete Genomics.

The MGISEQ-2000 and MGISEQ-200 systems released last month are essentially upgrades to the BGISEQ-500 and BGISEQ-50 that feature improvements in run time and read length, for example.

The two platforms differ up to tenfold in throughput: while the MGISEQ-200 generates up to 60 gigabases per run from a single flow cell, the MGISEQ-2000 produces up to 600 gigabases per run and takes two flow cells.

Both platforms can complete a single run with 100-base paired-end reads in less than 48 hours, Jiang said, much faster than the BGISEQ-500, which requires almost five days to complete a run with the same read length. "For research projects, that is OK, but when we talk with doctors or clinicians, they think the time is too long to fit the requirements of clinical tests," she said. "That's why we developed the new sequencers, which can deliver data in a shorter time."

They also will be able to run with at least four different read lengths, enabling a range of applications. At launch, the platforms will be able to generate paired-end reads up to 100 bases in length, but the company plans to release paired-end 150-base reads sometime next year, which will be suitable for applications such as whole-genome sequencing and oncology tests, she said. In addition, MGI Tech is working on 350-base single-end reads.

Both platforms are available for order starting December 25 and will start shipping February 14, 2018. Like the BGISEQ-500 and BGISEQ-50, they will initially be only available in China, where they will be more widely shipped late in Q2 of 2018, Jiang said.

The price of the MGISEQ-200 will be on the order of RMB 1 million ($150,000), at which "most genome centers or clinical labs can afford the equipment," she said. The price of the MGISEQ-2000 will be approximately RMB 2 million, and the cost of sequencing on that platform will be around $8 per gigabase.

MGI Tech plans to apply for CDFA approval for both the MGITECH-200 and the MGITECH-2000, which Jiang said usually takes one to two years. For that reason, they are unlikely to replace the BGISEQ-500 in the short term, which is currently widely used for clinical diagnostic testing. For example, many hospitals in China use the platform for noninvasive prenatal testing, Jiang said.

BGI Genomics will also bring the MGISEQ platforms in house and plans to provide sequencing services on them in the first quarter of 2018.

MGI Tech initially tested the new platforms with 10 early-access users who sent the company samples for sequencing analysis, among them eight in China and two in other countries. More recently, MGI Tech has installed the platforms in three early-access laboratories in China.

One early-access user is David Smith, director of the technology assessment group at the Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine, whose group tested both the BGISEQ-500 and the MGISEQ-2000 for whole-genome sequencing. The platforms delivered comparable data, with the MGISEQ-2000 having double the output of the BGISEQ-500, "and both were just as good as Illumina-based sequencing," Smith said.

"What I can't speak to is how robust the instruments are when you run them yourselves," he said. He added that he would like to bring the MGISEQ 2000 in house but said he believes there are patent issues that prevent MGI Tech from selling the platform in the US at the moment.

MGI Tech also announced the MGIFLP modular NGS workstation at last month's conference, a fully automated sample preparation, library preparation, and sequencing system that can start with different sample types, such as genomic DNA and whole blood. According to Jiang, the system, which will be available sometime next year, is "very easy to use," requiring no manual transfer of samples between different pieces of equipment. It will be especially suitable for laboratories that need to run large numbers of samples, she said, and MGI Tech plans to provide the MGIFLP to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

In an effort to branch out into other areas of healthcare, MGI Tech has also been developing a robotic ultrasound system, MGIUS-R3, which it announced last month. The system is designed for use in rural and remote areas of China where "patients and doctors might be thousands of miles away [from each other]," Jiang said. It will likely be used in conjunction with genomic tests to diagnose, for example, birth defects and infectious diseases, such as parasite infections.

Jiang said MGI Tech developed the robotic part of the system internally and worked with collaborators and vendors who provided certain parts for the platform. The MGIUS-R3 will probably become available within the next half year, but because it is a medical device, it will need to get CFDA approval before it can be placed at hospitals.

Going forward, the company plans to develop other types of medical equipment. "This is what we want to do in the future, provide a better solution, not just a genetic test," Jiang said.

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