NEW YORK – More than a year after unveiling its first DNA sequencer, Element Biosciences is preparing to enter markets across the world amidst increasingly heated competition in the next-generation sequencing field.
The San Diego-based NGS instrument maker announced this week that its Aviti platform is now available in Europe, following a series of recent global distribution agreements for markets in Asia and the Middle East.
"We are seeing opportunities come from across the globe," said Mark Aitkenhead, Element’s chief commercial officer. "We are really now trying to pivot quickly to meet that market demand by opening up markets across the globe."
When Element first launched its Aviti platform in March of last year, it exclusively focused on the US market. As the company is gaining a foothold in the US, however, it also decided to make the instrument available in other parts of the world. To date, Element has booked about 50 orders for Aviti, Aitkenhead said, including from "many different markets" outside the US.
As part of its global expansion, the firm has also established an office in Europe. Primarily based in the Netherlands due to its central location in Western Europe, the team has seven employees, Aitkenhead said, including in engineering, applications, technical support, and sales and a general manager.
The goal is to not only target the Western European market directly but also provide support to distributing partners in surrounding regions within a similar time zone. "They are a hub for us for the Western Europe market," he said, "but also a tie into the distributor network on the other side [of the world]."
So far, Element has named the Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB) in Belgium, Austria-based RNA sequencing firm Lexogen, and IGA Technology Services in Italy amongst its first European customers.
"[W]e think the opportunity for us in Europe is actually going to be greater than we had anticipated," Aitkenhead pointed out. Because European countries typically have a decentralized NGS market where samples tend to be processed locally, he explained, Element might be at an advantage, given that the Aviti platform primarily targets customers with lower throughput.
Besides Europe, Element has also established a team in China, which includes a few salespeople, an engineer, an application scientist, and a marketing person, Aitkenhead said. Its goal is to supplement regional distributors in the country while working with partners from both the government and private sectors to bring Aviti to the Chinese market.
In April, Element announced on the Chinese social media platform WeChat that it has forged a collaboration with Shanghai-based NGS testing service provider Sequanta Technologies and established the first Aviti demo center in China. "From a partnership standpoint, we're super excited," Aitkenhead said. "They are a major service provider, and they play a big role in the clinical trials space."
In addition to placing teams in Europe and China, Element has been recruiting distributors in other parts of the globe. In April, the company signed agreements with distributors based in Israel, South Korea, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, covering markets in seven different countries or regions.
"What we did was, we pulled up a list of all the markets ranked by importance and opportunity," Aitkenhead said. "We wanted to learn from the first tier [countries] before we go to the second one."
While Japan represents a potentially sizable opportunity for Element, he added, the company decided to push it to the second tier due to the complexity of its market. Meanwhile, the firm is "quite close to getting something finalized" in India, he noted, another potentially large opportunity.
Moving forward, Aitkenhead said "there is no question" that Element will adopt a hybrid model to employ both local teams in strategic locations and regional distributors as it continues to penetrate the global market. For example, the company is keen to deploy a small team in Singapore, he said, which will oversee the local market and serve as a liaison with distributors in that region.
While Element aspires to take on the world, it faces increasing rivalry from competitors, as Illumina, Pacific Biosciences, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, MGI Tech, Ultima Genomics, and Singular Genomics have all rolled out new instruments since the launch of Aviti. It remains to be seen how well the newcomer will fare with the existing players, many of which have already established a strong foothold in markets that are still new to Element.
Aitkenhead said Element will continue to target mid-throughput customers by enabling high-quality sequencing at an affordable price and offering a flexible solution. He claimed that the Aviti platform is able to "consistently" put out high-quality data with a Q40 score and sequencing costs around $500 per standard-coverage genome.
"If you look at how the markets largely played out, the only way that labs could gain access to high-quality, low-cost sequencing data was to have huge numbers of samples," he said. "What we are able to do is go in and offer labs in that medium-throughput space that same very attractive price point, but at significantly higher quality."