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Illumina Licenses Nanopore-based Sequencing Technology from UAB-UW

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of Alabama, Birmingham announced on Monday that it and the University of Washington have licensed to Illumina the rights to nanopore sequencing technology developed by a UAB microbiologist and a University of Washington physicist.

The deal gives Illumina exclusive worldwide rights to develop and market the technology developed by UAB's Michael Niederweis and UW's Jens Gundlach. The UAB Research Foundation and UW have filed patent applications covering the technology. Niederweis will serve as a consultant to Illumina as part of the deal.

Further terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

"Many companies and universities are looking at the potential of nanopore technology, but the technology developed by Niederweis and Gundlach is among the most promising," Christian Henry, senior vice president and general manager of Illumina's Genomic Solutions business, said in a statement.

UAB and UW's technology is based on attaching DNA polymerases to DNA strands, which move through nanopores. One problem with nanopore-based sequencing has been that DNA strands move too quickly through nanopores for electric signatures to be captured, UAB said. But in the technology developed by Niederweis and Gundlach, the DNA strands move through the pore as the polymerase processes them "at speeds well-suited for electronic detection."

Last year, the researchers and their colleagues published a study in Nature Biotechnology in which they coupled the Mycobacterium smegmatis porin A, or MspA, pore with an automated system for ratcheting DNA through a nanopore to read known DNA sequences between 42 and 53 bases long, as In Sequence reported at the time.

"Widespread access to genetic information will improve medical care worldwide; but in order to become part of daily, personalized medicine, DNA sequencing methods will need to become faster and cheaper," Niederweis said in a statement. "Our nanopore technology promises to achieve that, and we believe Illumina can transform our experimental system into a pioneering commercial technology."

This week's deal comes a few months after Oxford Nanopore Technologies and Illumina severed a commercialization agreement covering Oxford Nanopore's so-called Base technology. The agreement will end on June 30, 2016.

Illumina retains its rights to negotiate with Oxford Nanopore for its strand sequencing technology until Dec. 31, 2016, although Oxford Nanopore has said it has "no current intention" to commercialize that technology with a third party not affiliated with itself.

Shortly after the severance of the Oxford Nanopore-Illumina deal was made public, Illumina CEO Jay Flatley told an audience at an investor conference that his company is developing its own nanopore-based sequencing technology. Oxford Nanopore disputed Flatley's claim at the time.