Oxford Nanopore Technologies has licensed nanopore intellectual property from Harvard University, giving it exclusive rights to commercialize the inventions for sequencing and other applications, the groups said last week.
The license, which took 18 months to secure, gives Oxford Nanopore access to fundamental IP protecting both biological and solid-state nanopores, and complements technology it already owns and is currently developing for DNA sequencing (see In Sequence 4/8/2008), the company said.
Terms of the deal, penned through the university’s Office of Technology Development, also call for the British firm to sponsor research at the Harvard Nanopore Group, which is jointly headed by Daniel Branton and Jene Golovchenko.
The agreement comes seven years after Agilent Laboratories licensed similar nanopore technology from Harvard, and three years after a five-year nanopore research collaboration between Agilent and the same Harvard researchers who Oxford Nanopore will now sponsor ended.
The deal covers approximately 60 to 70 patents and patent applications, Oxford Nanopore CEO Gordon Sanghera told In Sequence last week. It includes nanotube-detector technology developed by Branton and his colleagues (see In Sequence 4/22/2008) but does not include IP on optical nanopore sequencing developed by Amit Meller, which Sequenom exclusively licensed from Harvard last fall (see In Sequence 10/2/2007).
“This covers more than three quarters of the key IP, both for biological and solid-state nanopores,” Sanghera said. “We believe we have a very strong position with this foundational IP.”
Oxford Nanopore, which recently changed its name from Oxford NanoLabs, wants to become the dominant commercial player in nanopore technology, he said, “and part of that is having a very strong IP estate around nanopores.”
The aim is to attract current and future players in the field. “We want them to come to us with any innovations in nanopores,” Sanghera said.
Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
The technologies the Oxford-based company licensed were developed in the labs of Branton, Golovchenko, and George Church at Harvard; in collaboration with David Deamer and Mark Akeson at the University of California, Santa Cruz and John Kasianowicz at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
In 1996, Kasianowicz, Branton, Deamer, and Harvard researcher Eric Brandin published a seminal paper in PNAS in which they showed that an electric field can drive single-stranded DNA through a biological nanopore. In that publication, they wrote that “the method could in principle provide direct, high-speed detection of the sequence of bases in single molecules of DNA or RNA.”
Sanghera said Oxford Nanopore is still working on additional licensing agreements with other partners, but the agreement with Harvard “is the most significant.”
“We want them to come to us with any innovations in nanopores.”
Nanopore-related IP currently not licensed by Oxford Nanopore includes, for example, several patents from Eagle Research & Development, a Boulder, Colo.-based company that collaborated with Applied Biosystems on nanopore array-based technology between 2006 and 2007.
According to Eagle R&D founder and CEO Jon Sauer, he and his colleagues have been developing etched silicon nanopores with active sensitive field-effect-transistor sensors surrounding the nanopore close to its exit. “We still feel this is the simplest, most promising commercial, and maybe scientific, approach to exploiting the promise of nanopores,” he told In Sequence by e-mail last week.
At the moment, Oxford Nanopore is developing sequencing technology that couples an exonuclease with a modified α-hemolysin nanopore, feeding nucleotides through the pore one at a time. “We believe this is a short-term-to-market product,” Sanghera said.
That technology is based on research by company cofounder Hagan Bayley at the University of Oxford. Kasianowicz, one of the inventors of the Harvard IP, is a former student of Bayley’s, according to Sanghera.
But the Harvard deal gives Oxford nanopore access to IP it might need for future generations of nanopore sequencing.
“Ultimately … it would be great to do strand sequencing” in which unbroken DNA strands thread through the pore, Sanghera said. However, that will require new methods for slowing down the DNA and enabling the nanopore to distinguish the four bases.
The company in the future could also switch from biological to solid state nanopores, “with all the inherent advantages of not having a lipid bilayer,” he said.
“We see this deal as a very important R&D pipeline deal,” Sanghera added.
As part of the agreement, Oxford Nanopore will sponsor research at the Harvard Nanopore Group with an undisclosed amount of funding in an open-ended collaboration. “We will share with them our developments, and they will share with us the nanopore progress,” Sanghera said. The parties did not disclose whether Oxford Nanopore will have rights to future inventions coming out of the Harvard Nanopore Group.
Exit Agilent Labs
To Harvard, the Oxford Nanopore deal comes three years after a five-year nanopore-based research collaboration between Agilent Laboratories, Agilent Technologies’ central research facility, and the Branton and Golovchenko groups — the same researchers now sponsored by Oxford Nanopore — ended.
Steve Laderman, director of the molecular tools department at Agilent Labs, told In Sequence by e-mail this week that that collaboration was “very effective and mutually beneficial.” He said it provided Harvard with “valuable resources and important know-how at a critical time in their program” and Agilent with an “exceptionally clear and useful window into the opportunities and challenges associated with molecular measurement with nanopores, along with the chance to contribute to the field.”
According to Agilent’s 2001 annual report, the company that year “decided to license this technology from Harvard University and to invest in this longer-range research and business opportunity.”
Agilent declined this week to comment on whether it still licenses nanopore-related IP from Harvard. “The details of our IP relationship are not something we talk about publicly,” said Agilent Labs Senior Director of Intellectual Property Strategy Jim Hollenhorst in an e-mail message.
Asked whether Agilent is still working on nanopore technology in-house, he said that while ultra-rapid sequencing will be an important tool and nanopore technology “remains exciting” for both sequencing and biosensors, “it is too early to know which of the many approaches will ultimately carry the day. Agilent is watching this area with great interest.”