By Monica Heger
Source BioScience, a UK-based service provider to the healthcare and life science industry, expects its next-gen sequencing services business to edge past its Sanger sequencing business this year, with applications in cancer genomics comprising the majority of its next-gen sequencing-based projects.
Source BioScience CEO Nick Ash told In Sequence this week that revenues from the company's next-gen sequencing business more than doubled over a three-year period — to $1.5 million in 2010 from $600,000 in 2007. The company posted total revenues of approximately $22 million in 2010.
For 2011, the company expects NGS services revenues to double, topping $3 million and surpassing its capillary electrophoresis sequencing business, which is also around $3 million.
"We're just at that tipping point where next-gen sequencing will overtake our conventional sequencing business," Ash said.
Including its Nottingham-based headquarters, the company operates offices in London, Cambridge, Oxford, Dublin, and Berlin. In each location, the company is housed in close proximity to a research institution and offers sequencing services on its seven Sanger-based ABI 3730xl machines as well as three Illumina Genome Analyzers and two HiSeq 2000s.
The company is also looking to invest in additional machines, potentially expanding its fleet of HiSeq 2000s from two to between five and ten. It also expects to purchase a MiSeq in the "near future."
Ash said that while the company would "keep an eye on" third-generation sequencers such as Pacific Biosciences' RS and Life Technologies' Ion Torrent PGM, for the time being those machines are not the right fit for Source BioScience.
"The technology has to be tried and tested before you adopt it in a service environment," Ash said. "New technologies can be a bit flakey, which is OK in a research environment but not in a service environment."
The company will also look to expand its footprint, replicating its current model of opening facilities near academic research institutions. Ash said this model helps set it apart from competitors, which tend to have one main headquarters where the majority of the work is done.
The company's main competitors are core sequencing centers at academic institutions, as well as GATC Biotech, MWG Eurofins, and LGC Genomics, Ash said, estimating that those three companies along with Source BioScience make up about 90 percent of the outsourced sequencing market in the UK.
He added that the company is looking to expand to UK locations such as Manchester, Edinburgh, and Leeds, and is also looking at additional opportunities in Germany and France. "France is an attractive market for us and it's not one that we've tackled yet. That's possibly the next big expansion," Ash said.
Ash said he does not envision the company becoming a "sequencing factory" like Complete Genomics or BGI. Instead, he said he expects to do more moderate-sized sequencing projects in the range of $50,000 with added value in the data analysis the company provides. Rather than a business model based on sequencing whole genomes as cheaply as possible, the company is focused on applied research and moving sequencing into the diagnostic setting.
"The driver for us is to evolve these kinds of technologies out of the research environment and into a clinical context," he said.
Ash said he expects the first application of sequencing in a clinical context will be cancer genomics. He said that nearly two-thirds of the company's UK business is already related to cancer research, primarily targeted sequencing applications such as exome sequencing and transcriptome sequencing.
The company is accredited for clinical pathology, good laboratory practices, and good clinical practices. In addition, it is licensed by the Human Tissue Authority. These different certifications "enable us to do healthcare work and regulatory study work that few [companies] can offer," Ash said.
The main customer for the company's cancer work is the UK's National Healthcare Services, but Ash said it is also working with academic institutions and pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca.
While cancer genomics based on next-gen sequencing continues to grow, a significant amount of the company's sequencing work is still done on its CE machines, such as mutation status testing for specific genes, including KRAS, BRAF, and EGRF. Mutational status is reported to the clinician, who then uses it to make treatment decisions, Ash said. Typically, those types of tests are correlated with specific therapies, where patients with a specific mutation will either respond or not respond to certain therapies.
Now, though, with the advent of next-gen sequencing, the company is starting to work with those same clinical groups to move the diagnostics to an earlier stage — identifying precancerous lesions, biomarkers that will indicate disease progression, or circulating tumor cells.
As part of its move into cancer genomics, the company has bid on a UK NHS project to develop a panel of genomic assays for breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers. The project would involve the genomic profiling of 9,000 cancer patients across the UK. Ash said that details of the project have not yet been finalized, but added that he has been working with Cancer Research UK, AstraZeneca, and the NHS, and expects the project to be finalized in the next month or two.
He said that as part of that project, the company would be looking to develop a "range of assays in a reference laboratory setting that would then be appropriate to roll out across the MiSeq platform" in hospitals, clinics, and pharmaceutical laboratories.
While cancer makes up the majority of the company's clinical genomics services, in the future he imagines other diseases will go the same route.
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