By Julia Karow
Seeking to raise its profile as a global provider of next-generation sequencing services, Korea's Macrogen has spun off a US-based division, Axeq Technologies.
Axeq, which started operating in January, offers a wide variety of sequencing services worldwide, including exome sequencing, whole-genome sequencing, targeted sequencing, pooled sequencing, RNA sequencing, ChIP sequencing, and Sanger sequencing, along with data-analysis services.
Though Axeq is headquartered in Rockville and follows standard US business practices, most of its next-gen sequencing capacity is located at Macrogen's headquarters in Seoul, and the firm has additional labs in the Netherlands and Japan.
"A few months ago, we looked at the market and decided it is important to build a premium brand dedicated to next-generation sequencing services and collaborations," said Daniel Siu, executive vice president of Axeq, explaining Macrogen's decision to spin off the division. "We hope we can do the same thing that Lexus has done for Toyota."
The company has several types of sequencing platforms, though Illumina appears to dominate at the moment. Siu declined to provide how many sequencers of each type the firm owns, and where they are located, but according to Axeq's website, it has "a large number" of HiSeq 2000 and GAIIx machines, two Life Technologies SOLiD 4 systems, "multiple" 454 instruments, and several ABI 3730 Sanger sequencers.
In addition, Axeq is interested in bringing in new types of sequencers and has been in discussions with both Pacific Biosciences and Life Tech's Ion Torrent, according to KS Yang, the firm's chief technical officer. It is also working with startup Lightspeed Genomics to build a new sequencing platform and is one of that firm's investors (IS 4/14/2009).
To enrich DNA for targeted sequencing, Axeq offers customers a choice between Agilent's SureSelect, Illumina's TruSeq, and Roche NimbleGen's SeqCap EZ.
Right now, Axeq's capacity is large enough to generate 100,000 exomes per year, Siu said, and several additional Illumina instruments will come online in the next few months. Though most of its next-gen sequencers are in Korea, additional instruments might be placed at its other labs, depending on market demand, he said.
US customers send their samples to the Rockville facility and do not need to deal with shipping them overseas, he added.
In addition to sequencing, customers have access to Macrogen's CGH array, gene expression, and RT-PCR platforms, for example for validation studies of CNVs and SNPs. "We don't just do sequencing," Siu said. "We do a whole bunch of downstream applications to help our clients, so they don't have to go out and look for other providers."
Through a collaboration between Macrogen and the Genomic Medicine Institute at Seoul National University, Axeq is also involved in the Asian Genome Study, which plans to analyze 100,000 exomes and 1,000 human genomes. The firm is interested in collaborating with clients who could benefit from access to this data, for example to replicate results from a genetic study in another population.
Axeq is targeting as customers academic, industry, and pharmaceutical researchers taking on projects of all sizes, ranging from "a few samples" to "thousands of samples," Siu said.
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At the moment, the company focuses mostly on human genome sequencing. "I think in the near term, the sweet spot is in exome sequencing, because it's affordable and has been proven as a useful discovery too," Siu said. "But the real big business will be the whole-genome sequencing-type applications."
Prices are "pretty reasonable," he said, due in part to "moderate" labor costs in Korea. Throughout February, the company offers exome sequencing for $1,999 per sample, according to its website, with a minimum order of 12 samples. Siu said that price probably stay the same in the future, with "some minimal order requirements."
It also currently offers human genomes sequenced at 30-fold coverage on the Illumina platform for approximately $15,000 per sample, Siu said, and provides volume-based discounts for orders of more than 100 samples.
The turnaround time for a human genome sequencing project ranges from about 1.5 to 3 months, depending on the complexity of the project and the sample quality, he said.
For comparison, Illumina said recently that it offers whole human genomes at $10,000 or less through its Illumina Genome Network (IS 2/15/2011), which requires a minimum order of 50 samples. And Belgian service provider DNAVision said earlier this year that it will start offering human whole-genome sequencing service for about $10,000 per genome (IS 1/18/2011).
Of note, Macrogen, together with the Genomic Medicine Institute, provides human whole-genome sequencing services for the Illumina Genome Network under contract, and will maintain this relationship, according to Siu. But unlike the IGN, Axeq has no order minimum for whole-genome sequencing, so "PIs can now access NGS services with as little as one sample and still enjoy very competitive pricing with high-quality services and very accurate data," he said.
Longer term, Axeq is also eying the clinical sequencing market. Before the end of the year, it intends to obtain CLIA certification for at least one of its labs, though it has not decided which one.
And in the long run, it wants to be "not only a service provider for research" but also "engage in the personalized medicine area," Siu said. That, he added, would likely require a separate division dedicated to diagnostic applications.
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