By Monica Heger
This article was originally posted March 11.
Oxford Nanopore announced last week that it has licensed technology from Harvard University for graphene-based nanopore sequencing.
Under the terms of the agreement, the company has exclusive rights to develop and commercialize methods developed in the labs of Harvard researchers Jene Golovchenko, Daniel Branton, and Charles Lieber for the use of graphene to analyze DNA and RNA. The deal also covers recent patent applications the researchers have filed. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Grpahene nanopores for DNA sequencing are still a long way from being used commercially. Spike Willcocks, Oxford Nanopore's vice president of business and corporate development, told In Sequence that the deal represents "a long-term investment" and added that while there's still a lot of work to be done, graphene nanopores "may have the potential for faster, better, sequencing technologies."
Oxford Nanopore has been known primarily for its work in protein nanopores, particularly methods developed by Hagan Bayley at the University of Oxford, who is also a co-founder of the company.
Willcocks noted, however, that that the licensing agreement does not mark a shift in the company's focus, but rather expands on existing collaborations with the Harvard researchers to develop solid-state nanopores. "It helps expand our tool kit for nanopore technologies," he said.
"We are pore impartial, whether that's protein nanopores or solid-state nanopores," Willcocks said. "It's the uniqueness of the sensing system that we believe is revolutionary and disruptive."
The company has invested both internally and through its academic partners on a range of nanopore sequencing technologies, including methods based on protein nanopores and solid-state nanopores, and both exonuclease and strand sequencing.
It declined to break down how those resources are divided, but much of its focus has been devoted to common elements of all the nanopore technologies through the development of its GridIon platform, an electronic nanopore sensing system that will allow for both exonuclease sequencing and strand sequencing through any type of nanopore, as well as protein analysis.
The system is made up of single "nodes," each of which consists of a core nanopore sensing chemistry. A sample is loaded into a 96-well plate, and one node can run one experiment, or several nodes can be networked together to analyze the same sample, resulting in faster turnaround time.
The company currently has about 15 of its machines in use internally, and another 20 under assembly. While it would not disclose when it expected to launch the machines commercially, or whether any of its academic collaborators currently have access to the instruments, the system is "in late stage development," and the company is now focusing on "optimization, reproducibility, and bug fixing," said chief technology officer Clive Brown.
Brown added that the platform is unique in that one machine can support three different applications — protein analysis, exonuclease sequencing, and strand sequencing. The core chemistry is the same for all three applications, and then, depending on which application a researcher requires, there are different cartridges that are inserted into the machine that utilize different chemistry. However, Zoe McDougall, the company's communications and marketing director, said it is likely that a node will be sold for a specific application.
Additionally, the system will be customizable, allowing for a range of read lengths from very short to very long — "well beyond anything that's out there," said Brown.
The GridIon system is also designed to support both small- and large-scale applications — one node can be used as a benchtop instrument, while multiple nodes can be stacked together for mid-scale labs and even large genome centers, according to the company's website.
"We do not have a niche targeting mentality. We have built a broadly applicable, scalable machine," Brown said.
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