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Solexa, Fulfilling Pledge, Begins Shipping Early-Access Sequencers

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - Solexa said last week that it fulfilled its promise to begin shipping an early version of its first sequencing instrument to early-access customers by the end of June, making it the second company behind 454 Life Sciences with a next-generation sequencer on the market.
Among the first recipients of Solexa's Genome Analysis System, which the firm plans to launch broadly later this year, are the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Genome Sequencing Center at the Washington University School of Medicine.
Solexa, through a spokesman, declined to disclose the total number of shipments and their recipients "for competitive reasons." However, the company said that the shipments followed a period of collaboration that also included the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. During those collaborations, which started as far back as last fall in some cases, Solexa sequenced samples provided by these institutions, which in turn analyzed the data they received.
Solexa also did not reveal the exact technical specifications of the instruments it shipped but said the machines "are up and running samples at the customers' sites," according to the spokesman. The company expects to recognize revenue from the instruments, and is not selling the systems at a discount except for multiple units, according to the spokesman. He said payment terms are "designed to provide additional incentive for early adoption of the technology." Earlier this year, Solexa CEO John West had indicated that early access units "may be modestly discounted from the list price of $395,000."
Early Days for Early Access
The Broad Institute received its GAS just over a week ago and is still busy setting it up. "So far all we've done is run a bunch of control samples designed to baseline the instrument and help us with implementation," Chad Nusbaum, co-director of the institute's genome sequencing and analysis program, told GenomeWeb News last week. His group first started "talking with" Solexa last fall and has since visited the company's facilities in California and the UK.
In the coming months, Nusbaum said he and his colleagues at the Broad plan to optimize the machine for a number of unspecified applications, and develop algorithms to get the best use from the short reads the platform generates. "We are excited about this machine because it promises large amounts of very cheap data," possibly more than 10 times cheaper per base than data from the standard ABI platform, he said. "That's the hope."
At that price point, projects that were previously cost-prohibitive would become feasible, such as disease studies involving sampling the gene space in large numbers of individuals, he said.
Price per sequence might be the major challenge that Solexa's instrument currently poses to 454's GS20, while each system has its pros and cons on the technical side. "Just the way that 454 has gone after ABI saying 'here is shorter reads at lower cost', Solexa is sort of going after 454 and saying, 'here is even shorter reads at even lower cost,'" Nusbaum said.
Compared to 454's GS20, Solexa's GAS generates shorter reads and does not seem to share the GS20's problem with homopolymers, according to industry experts. Solexa has also shown that its system is capable in principle of read-pairing, according to Nusbaum. 454 said in the past it plans to enable paired-end reads by the middle of the year.
Armed With ABI Alumni
Behind Solexa and 454 at least two other players are poised to enter the next-gen sequencing market as early as next year: Applied Biosystems, which just completed its acquisition of Agencourt Personal Genomics, said last week that it plans to place initial systems with early-access customers sometime in 2007, and Helicos BioSciences said last month that it still plans to beta-test and launch its instrument next year as well. To prepare for its launch, Helicos recently hired Steve Lombardi, a former ABI and Affymetrix executive, as senior vice president of marketing. From 1989 to 1998, Lombardi managed ABI's DNA sequencing and genetic analysis business.
Solexa, meantime, is now assembling a field organization to support commercial sales efforts. The company, which was recently added to the Russell 3,000 Index, which tracks the performance of the 3,000 largest US companies, just hired Richard Lussier as vice president of sales and field operations. Lussier, like Solexa CEO John West and Helicos' Lombardi, is an ABI veteran: Lussier was president and general manager of ABI Japan for five years after holding other managerial positions at the company. He will be responsible for hiring sales, field service, and field applications staff.
Solexa said it may disclose more details about its early-access program during its second-quarter earnings call, scheduled for Aug. 14.
Julia Karow covers the next-generation genome-sequencing market for GenomeWeb News. E-mail her at [email protected].

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