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Helicos, Pacific Biosciences Get '$1,000 Genome' Stimulus Funds

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Helicos BioSciences and Pacific Biosciences are two of the recipients of "Grand Opportunities" grants focused on sequencing technologies funded under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, the firms announced separately this morning.

The grants are part of the National Human Genome Research Institute's "Recovery Act Signature Project," which are technologies being developed to sequence a human genome for $1,000 or less. These grants are in addition to the ongoing and newly announced grants under the institute's "$1,000 Genome" project, also known as the Revolutionary Genome Sequencing Technologies grant program.

In total, NHGRI has awarded under the stimulus funding around $13.4 million to companies and researchers at academic centers working on sub-$1,000 genome technologies. In addition to that, it has awarded around $19 million in non-Recovery Act funds to 10 additional sequencing technology development projects, it said in a statement sent to GenomeWeb.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Helicos said today that it has been awarded a two-year, $2.9 million grant from NHGRI as part of the stimulus funding. The firm sells a single-molecule sequencing system called the Helicos Genetic Analysis System.

"This grant will fund research on the chemistry and molecular biology underlying the Helicos System," John Thompson, principal investigator for the grant, said in a statement. "We expect to make continuous improvements to the core technology that will increase throughput and accuracy of the system without any hardware changes."

Menlo Park, Calif.-based Pacific Biosciences announced separately that it has received nearly $2 million in funding from NIH and NHGRI aimed at further developing its real-time, single-molecule sequencing system.

Under the first grant, which also is part of the Grand Opportunities stimulus funding, Pacific Bio received $1.2 million over two years from NHGRI to support the development of a direct DNA methylation detection method to run on its SMRT DNA sequencing system.

"The complex networks of biological processes associated with genetic factors beyond the underlying DNA sequence is one of the most exciting and rapidly expanding areas of study for disease researchers today," Eric Schadt, chief scientific officer of Pacific Biosciences, said in a statement. "The ability to directly determine genomic DNA methylation patterns, even in areas with highly repetitive sequence, will dramatically accelerate and reduce the cost of projects aiming to illuminate the role of epigenetic factors in human health."

Under a supplemental stimulus grant, Pacific Bio also received approximately $700,000 in funding to continue development of its SMRT system. The firm said that these funds will be used to support performance enhancements and additional scientific publications describing the SMRT technology.

As reported by GenomeWeb Daily News earlier this week, NHGRI's database showed several 2009 recipients of $1,000 Genome grants, including IBM, Ion Torrent Systems, Electronic Biosciences, and Lightspeed Genomics. However, these grants are not part of the additional stimulus funds being applied to that project.

In addition to those firms, General Electric said today that its GE Global Research arm has received funding from NHGRI to continue developing its DNA sequencing technology under the $1,000 Genome program. According to NHGRI's database, GE received around $1.3 million for a two-year grant under the program.

According to a GE statement, its approach to sequencing "uses a mixture of enzyme and dye-tagged nucleotides, the building block of DNA, in a novel way to simplify the fundamental, front-end chemistry of massively parallel sequencing-by-synthesis. GE's method uses the natural catalytic cycle of DNA polymerase, the enzyme that replicates DNA, to capture just a single DNA base on a single immobilized DNA strand."

GE said that the NHGRI funding will enable it to build a prototype DNA sequencer and demonstrate its sequencing technology.

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