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Oxford Nanopore Disputes Comments by Illumina CEO

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Oxford Nanopore Technologies today issued a statement disputing remarks made by Illumina CEO Jay Flatley at an investment conference about his firm's relationship with Oxford.

A week-and-a-half ago, Oxford Nanopore said that as part of an agreement resolving arbitration between it and Illumina over a 2009 commercialization alliance, the firms said that the deal would terminate on June 30, 2016.

Commenting at the Goldman Sachs 34th Annual Global Healthcare Conference last week on the deal and the severing of the firms' ties, Flatley said that, among other things, Illumina continues to hold "some rights under change in control in agreements," and that Illumina is developing its own nanopore-based sequencing technology. Noting Oxford Nanopore's own history in trying to commercialize its nanopore sequencing technology, though, he added that the technology, in general, is still a ways away from commercialization.

Oxford today issued a statement refuting those comments as well as correcting and clarifying certain points of the arbitration proceedings between the firms.

Contrary to Flatley's characterization that Illumina has "some rights" about any possible change in control over Oxford Nanopore, the UK firm said the agreement between the companies "does not give Illumina any special rights in the event of a change of control of Oxford Nanopore."

While Illumina retains until 2016 the rights to match any offer by a third party to purchase all of Oxford Nanopore assets or to purchase all of the assets related to Oxford Nanopore's strand sequencing technology, "Illumina has no right to match a proposed offer by a third party to purchase shares in" Oxford Nanopore, the UK firm said in its statement.

It also questioned Illumina's claim that the San Diego-based company is developing its own nanopore sequencing technology. Oxford Nanopore said that it is the pioneer of this technology and has not granted Illumina or any other commercial organization a license to any of its patents covering its strand sequencing method, its so-called Base technology, or any other nanopore technologies covered by its IP portfolio.

Oxford Nanopore said its IP portfolio consists of more than 300 issued patents and patent applications in more than 80 patent families in a "wide range" of nanopore-based technologies.

Oxford Nanopore also took issue with Flatley's remark last week about the current commercial viability of nanopore sequencing.

"In terms of where third-generation technologies are, sort of in totality, we think they're still ways away from the market," Flatley told investors. "[P]articularly, nanopore is a very difficult technology to get to work robustly, and I think that's been shown by how long it's taken Oxford [Nanopore] to get [its] products into the marketplace. And certainly, we're making great progress in our labs, but we think it's some years away from being commercially available."

In early 2012, Oxford Nanopore unveiled its GridIon and MinIon platforms based on its strand sequencing technology, saying that it planned to commercialize the systems in the second half of 2012. Since then, however, the firm has been silent about its plans, stirring concerns that its technology may not be working as planned, as In Sequence has reported.

In its statement today, Oxford Nanopore said that Illumina has no access to Oxford Nanopore's "relevant technical or commercial information" around the company's products, and as a result "Oxford Nanopore assumes that [Flatley] was referring to his own technology development efforts rather than that of Oxford Nanopore."

Illumina said it had no comment on the Oxford Nanopore statement.