This article has been updated to include additional information from MGI Tech regarding the use of its sequencing platform and reagents in Sweden.
VIENNA – A week after announcing its comeback to the US next-gen sequencing market this summer, MGI Tech said it will also have another go at the European market.
At the European Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in Vienna this week, MGI provided more details about its game plan, and two of its customers — from Sweden and Hungary — talked about their use of MGI sequencing platforms.
MGI has been effectively shut out of the US and most of the European sequencing market after Illumina started suing the company for patent infringement in multiple venues in 2019.
In the US, MGI now plans to start selling its DNBSeq-G400C sequencer in late August, when a key Illumina US patent expires, in conjunction with its CoolMPS chemistry, which relies on fluorescently labeled antibodies for base detection.
For Europe, MGI is pursuing a different strategy, based on its new HotMPS chemistry. The firm launched that chemistry in late April, saying it would be available in "select countries" that month, but provided few details other than that the new chemistry is based on "fundamental breakthroughs in the nucleotides and enzymes used in the sequencing process."
At ESHG this week, MGI officials explained that HotMPS, like the firm's StandardMPS chemistry, uses fluorescently labeled nucleotides with a cleavable blocking group, but that the nature of that block has been changed to avoid infringement of Illumina IP. The company has also engineered a new polymerase that can incorporate the new types of nucleotides.
The HotMPS chemistry is designed to run on the DNBSeq-G400 platform, which runs up to two flow cells and has a data output ranging from 75 Gb to 360 Gb per flow cell, depending on read length, which can be 50 bp or 100 bp single-end reads or 50 bp or 100 bp paired-end reads. The plan is to increase read length to 150 bp paired-end reads later this year. Existing DNBSeq-G400 instruments will need a software upgrade to make them compatible with the new chemistry and will no longer be able to run the StandardMPS chemistry after that. MGI also plans to make its high-throughput T7 platform compatible with HotMPS chemistry soon, also through a software upgrade.
Nicole Neubauer, MGI's global product marketing manager, said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference that MGI never left the European market entirely, as it was still allowed to sell its sequencing platforms in certain countries, such as France. It is now selling the new chemistry and instruments in all European countries except the UK, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. Those five countries are still pending clearance from MGI's legal department for starting sales efforts, she said, because the company wants to ensure that the new products are not subject to new legal restrictions. The expectation is that MGI will eventually be able to sell them throughout Europe.
In the meantime, MGI has built out its workforce in Europe, which now has a headcount of more than 170, and has installed more than 700 instruments in the region, many of them sample prep platforms for sample transfer, nucleic acid extraction, and automated library preparation that can operate independently of its sequencing platforms and be used for other workflows. It also recently opened a business office in Frankfurt and still maintains its warehouse, customer demonstration lab, and R&D facility in Latvia.
Neubauer said that during the pandemic, MGI sold a lot of sample prep instruments to COVID-19 testing labs in Europe, which helped the country build its reputation ahead of getting back into the sequencing business.
She said that the company's first target will be customers in Europe who were previously interested in MGI's sequencing platform but were either unable to purchase an instrument or had to return their instrument when MGI had to pull out of their country. "Not all customers waited," she said, and some have moved on to other sequencing platforms, "but all need more sequencing capacity."
During a company-sponsored workshop on Saturday, two existing customers presented work they conducted using MGI sequencing.
Lars Engstrand, director of the Centre for Translational Microbiome Research and National Pandemic Centre at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, has been pursuing large-scale microbiome profiling as part of several population-based studies, mostly of the gut microbiome from fecal samples. In 2019, his lab and the group of Mathias Uhlén, in collaboration with BGI-Research and others, launched a project called MMHP that aims to characterize 1 million human microbial samples over three to five years. The group has finished metagenomic sequencing for the first 10,000 samples and has found consistent results between MGI's sequencers and other sequencing platforms. It has now collected almost 44,000 samples from an increasing number of collaborators.
His lab has DNBSeq-G400 and T7 sequencers in house but switched its sequencing capacity temporarily to COVID-19 testing over the past two years, he reported. It is now back to microbiome sequencing. The lab recently compared data from the StandardMPS and HotMPS chemistries and found them to be similar in quality.
In a statement, an MGI spokesperson stressed that the company did not deliver any sequencing kits to Engstrand or elsewhere in Sweden after the preliminary injunction resulting from Illumina's lawsuit took effect. Also, the comparison data Engstrand presented during the workshop was generated at MGI's Latvia facility.
István Szatmári of the University of Debrecen in Hungary has also been using the DNBSeq-G400 in his lab for the last few years along with the Illumina NextSeq 500. He reported on a project that used RNA-seq to measure transcription in mouse embryonic stem cells in response to ectopic expression of two genes, Runx3 or Zbtb46. A large fraction of the transcripts detected by the Illumina and MGI platforms overlapped, he reported, as did the transcripts found by the StandardMPS versus the HotMPS chemistry. He also mentioned that sequencing costs were lower with the DNBSeq-G400 than with Illumina.
Neubauer declined to disclose a list price for the DNBSeq-G400 but said that it is similarly priced to "competing platforms with comparable throughput" and that consumables and reagent costs per gigabase are "significantly" below the competition.