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Twist Bioscience Touts Longer Oligos, NGS-Based Genotyping


NEW YORK – Twist Bioscience said this week that it is helping customers ditch SNP array-based genotyping and move to a next-generation sequencing workflow.

On a conference call following the release of the firm's fiscal third quarter financial results, Twist officials noted that they have been working with a handful of customers — fewer than five — to use the firm's NGS products for genotyping. The development could give Twist entry to genotyping for agricultural biotechnology and direct-to-consumer genetic testing, a combined market that Twist values at $500 million.

The reveal was one of several updates on where the company, which recently went public, is headed. Twist also announced that it has developed a method for synthesizing oligos up to 300 nucleotides long and that it has already outlined a market for its DNA-based digital data storage solution.

"As we have mentioned previously, several customers have demonstrated that sequencing using Twist for library prep and target capture with sequencing on the [Illumina] NovaSeq platform can be less expensive than running DNA microarrays for SNP analysis," said Twist CEO and Cofounder Emily Leproust. "We intend to continue to enable this conversion."

She added that in July, the firm received approximately $800,000 in orders from customers looking to convert. The order was "the first proof point that we can compete in that market."

Twist did not address what types of customers were converting.

"We do expect it to take some time to penetrate this area, as the shift in workflow is substantial," Leproust said. "That said, the unique combination of our platform and sequencing with NovaSeq provides richer genotyping data at an attractive price point compared to SNP arrays."

Twist also has plans to offer additional NGS products in the near future, including target enrichment panels for non-human species for the research market.

In addition, the company will be offering longer oligos, which it said will increase the productivity of biological research and enhance the firm's data storage capabilities.

Leproust said the firm has "identified a proprietary way to make our oligos 300 bases at very low error rate," as low as 1 in 1,500 nucleotides.

"Historically, making oligos longer than 150-200 bases has been extremely difficult due to chemical reaction inefficiencies," the firm said in a statement. "The addition of each base in the sequence introduces the risk of error because of the complex chemistry required to complete the synthesis."

The enhanced length "enables direct synthesis of two guide RNAs together" for use in CRISPR genome editing, allowing for multiplexed experiments. It could also be useful for protein engineering, as the length corresponds to the amount of DNA needed to encode 100 amino acids, the approximate length of many protein subunits.

The firm also noted that it is developing a new silicon chip for DNA-based digital data storage, which Leproust said would be key to making future improvements.

She said the firm already has a few customers for its data storage solution and that the cost is currently about $1,000 per megabyte. She suggested the price was right for "storing bitcoins," but was prohibitive for storing, say, financial data.

"The next opportunity for us is when we can significantly lower the cost of writing data" to approximately $100 to $1,000 per gigabyte, she said. "Once you have that, you can serve some interesting markets."

Leproust said it made the most sense for Twist to offer "cold" storage, for data that's written once but almost never read. "Because we don't control the reading side, we will focus on markets where data is read very infrequently," she said. She suggested that the "vast majority of the data in the world" is written once, but never read.

She added that the NovaSeq platform was "perfect for that" and as sequencing technology improves, cheaper methods might enable the firm to offer storage to markets where data is accessed more often.

"The next step after that will be $100 per terabyte, which is the price of a hard drive," Leproust said. "At that point, you can go after the entire market."