This article has been updated to clarify that Ambry Genetics has not yet signed up with AllSeq.
Sequencing services matchmaker BlueSeq of Denmark has moved to the US, where it has reopened under the name AllSeq.
AllSeq acquired all of BlueSeq's intellectual property and assets and set up shop in San Diego, Calif., about six months ago, the firm's president and CSO, Shawn Baker, told In Sequence.
AllSeq just closed a mid-six-figure dollar seed funding round from previous and new investors and made a few new hires for a total of five full-time and several part-time employees.
The company's mission remains the same as BlueSeq's: to provide an online marketplace that connects providers of next-gen sequencing services with researchers seeking NGS services for specific projects.
"We're taking the mission, the lessons that we've learned with BlueSeq, figuring out what worked, what didn't work, and then expanding on it," Baker said.
The goal is to match researchers not only with a provider offering the technology they want at the right price, but also with someone who has capacity for their project, and offers the expertise, level of customer service, and turnaround time they want. "We think all of these factors are really important, and those are the problems that we think the sequencing marketplace that we built is set up to solve," he said.
BlueSeq started its online exchange for NGS services about two years ago (IS 4/26/2011). Researchers looking for services can list their projects for free in a standardized format, and providers can sign up at no cost and bid on projects, filtering them by criteria such as size, timeframe, or sequencing application. If they win a contract, they pay a commission on the order of 5 to 10 percent of the total project service fee. While researchers can choose between bids, providers don't see each others' quotes.
According to AllSeq's website, the service offers providers access to a global customer base, allows them to fill up spare sequencing capacity, helps them to reduce their marketing and sales costs, and saves them time by enabling them to only bid on relevant projects.
The site also offers researchers a free project design tool as well as basic facts about a variety of sequencing platforms and technologies, a "neutral source of information" that attracts "hundreds of unique visitors per day," Baker said, noting that the firm does not run advertisements from vendors.
One of the reasons for the move from Denmark to California is the easier access to capital, Baker said, because venture capital firms are generally more comfortable dealing with companies based in the US.
Also, about half the 40 to 50 providers who were signed up with BlueSeq – some are still in the process of signing on with AllSeq – are based in North America. About a third are located in Europe, and the remainder are in Asia. Providers run the gamut from small academic core facilities to commercial service shops and cover all commercial sequencing platforms among them, Baker said. While AllSeq focuses on the research market, it is keeping an eye on the clinical sequencing services market. Several providers in its marketplace offer CLIA sequencing services.
Like the providers, the majority of the several hundred researchers who list their projects on AllSeq are based in North America. These tend to be academic groups, though the firm has seen interest from commercial research groups as well. Projects vary widely in size – some require a single run on an Illumina MiSeq or Ion Torrent PGM, others involve sequencing more than 100 whole human genomes.
AllSeq helps researchers who are inexperienced with next-gen sequencing describe their projects in a way that makes it easier to obtain a quote. "A lot of times, they don't know exactly how to articulate their needs for a sequencing project," Baker said. "We're providing those tools, walking them through the process of describing a project, asking all the relevant questions, making sure they at least take a stab at finding that out. That will give them the most accurate estimates and accurate quotes that they can then compare across a variety of providers."
The software also lets providers put in multiple estimates prior to offering a binding quote. "If a researcher says, 'I want to do whole-genome sequencing at 70x,' the provider can say, 'I can bid you a price on that, but it's kind of an unusual number, so if you want to save a little money, here's what it would cost at 50x or at 30x.' Buyers can then choose, and the provider knows that's the only one they have to really concentrate on to make a specific quote that is legally binding," Baker explained.
However, it's not only about finding the least expensive provider, he said. "If you have a listing service that just lists the price, you can sort by that and it's pretty easy to see the cheapest or the most expensive," he said. "But you also need to know, do the providers actually have the capacity to work within the timeframe of my project, are they available right now?" With AllSeq, "only those providers who are actually interested and ready to engage with that customer are going to respond. The others who don't have capacity just decline the project in the system."
AllSeq has been facing competition from other sequencing services marketplaces, notably Genohub (IS 8/20/2013), Science Exchange, and the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities' Core MarketPlace (IS 3/19/2013).
But according to Baker, these are essentially listing services that do not allow for competitive bidding. "There are definitely some nice things about that − you can see all the potential providers out there," he said. In fact, AllSeq is planning to add a list of sequencing providers on its own site over the next several months.
But while researchers can sort service providers by price on the other sites, they still need to contact them individually to find out if they have capacity for their project. "We solved that problem by saying, 'Tell us what you're interested in, what technology you want, what geographical constraints you have," he said. "Then we help them spell out their project in a systematic way, and then we put that project out to all the providers that match those parameters."
Going forward, AllSeq plans to make its matching service work "as robustly as possible," so it can handle increasing numbers of projects and quotes. "We are listening to [clients], understanding where the pain points are, finding out where they might get stuck in the process, and then building tools to refine that," Baker said.
In addition, the company plans to put more emphasis on data analysis services in the future, which researchers can already request now as part of sequencing services.
BaseClear, a research service provider in Leiden, the Netherlands, has been using AllSeq, and prior to that BlueSeq, for the past two years or so and has gained one major customer with multiple projects as a result.
According to Evelien Zeinstra, BaseClear's account manager for sequencing services, using AllSeq has meant that customers in other countries that don't know about BaseClear can still find them. AllSeq also qualifies customers for BaseClear and gives them advice. "If you have direct contact, sometimes you waste a lot of time in giving advice and design[ing] a project, and then the customer goes elsewhere," Zeinstra said in an e-mail message.
On the flip side, with no direct contact with a customer upfront, it is sometimes difficult to know their precise needs and expectations. Besides price, customers look for quality, delivery time, and good communication, she said, and the latter is "difficult to prove if you aren't in direct contact."
Besides AllSeq, BaseClear has used Genohub. "The big difference is, you can see all prices of other providers [on Genohub] and you can only enter prices per lane and prep," she said. "You can't give a detailed project proposal to customers."
Other providers believe direct interactions with customers still work better for them than service exchanges. "People know our brand pretty well, so I don't know how much of an advantage it is for us to utilize them," said Ardy Arianpour, senior vice president of business development at Ambry Genetics, which provides both research and clinical diagnostic sequencing services.
While Ambry is "involved with" several listing and matchmaking services, including AllSeq, Genohub, and Science Exchange, it has yet to win a contract based on using them. The firm has not yet signed up with AllSeq, though.
"The challenge is the fact that they're a middleman," Arianpour said, so customers likely pay higher prices than they would if they connected with a provider directly, because providers will build the commission they pay to AllSeq into their fee.
He believes many customers are not aware of the exchanges yet, and although they offer "pretty nice interfaces and online portals," customers are more likely to turn to an Internet search engine to find a provider.
If a customer is in a rush to get a project done, and they are not all that price-sensitive, using someone like AllSeq might make sense, he said. "But for big projects, I think more people would go directly to the sequencing provider itself," allowing them to discuss their project in detail with them.
"The human element is the most important aspect for picking a sequencing provider, because anyone can have a box and do sequencing; that's very easy," Arianpour said. "Not everyone can deliver on the informatics, and analysis, and design, and having that conversation is the most important thing."