Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd., the closely held company developing a portable gene-sequencing device that will sell for less than $1,000, plans to unveil two instruments that use its novel technology today.
Oxford Nanopore will show the portable product and a desktop machine to doctors and scientists attending a conference of the American Society of Human Genetics in San Francisco this week, Chief Executive Officer Gordon Sanghera said. He declined to specify when the company would begin taking orders, saying that it plans "commencing commercialization" this year.
The U.K. company is seeking a piece of the $1.5 billion to $2 billion gene-sequencing market now dominated by Illumina Inc. (ILMN) and Life Technologies Corp. (LIFE) Oxford Nanopore received 10,000 inquiries after it announced in February that it was working on the MinION and the larger GridION, which can be scaled up to sequence a genome in less than a day, Sanghera said.
"We wanted to show the instruments, particularly as this is a clinical genomics community and they won't really be aware of nanopore sequencing," the CEO said in an interview before the conference. "We really want to open a front."
The company hired Adam Lowe, a former executive at Illumina, a potential competitor that holds a 15 percent stake in Oxford, England-based Oxford Nanopore, to direct a five- person sales team, Sanghera said.
A survey of 150 readers of In Sequence, an industry newsletter published by GenomeWeb LLC, found that San Diego- based Illumina had two-thirds of the sequencing market and that Illumina and Life Technologies of Carlsbad, California, have equal shares of the desktop market. A shakeup may be coming: a third of readers planning to buy a sequencer in the next 12 months expect to buy an Illumina machine, a quarter will buy from Life Technologies, and a quarter expect to buy one of Oxford Nanopore's machines, according to the survey results released Oct. 2.
Sanghera declined to disclose the speed or capacity of the MinION and GridION machines and wouldn't confirm whether they are being field-tested by prospective customers. The company said in February that the devices had an accuracy rate of about 96 percent, comparable to machines on the market, and said it wouldn't sell the products until they were accurate more than 99 percent of the time.
"I can't comment if we are there yet," Sanghera said.
Oxford Nanopore's investors include IP Group Plc (IPO), hedge- fund manager Lansdowne Partners LP and Invesco Perpetual, the U.K. group of mutual funds. Shares of IP Group rose as much as 2.6 percent, and were up 1 percent at 117.20 pence at 11:51 a.m. in London.
Oxford Nanopore's products increase the number of genes that could be analyzed and improve turnaround times, giving them an advantage over existing instruments, Sanghera said.
"This allows you to do 512 channels at once on the MinION, compared to one on a gold-standard instrument on the market today," Sanghera said, referring to nanopore instruments used in academic settings. The DNA sample is randomly distributed across the electronic channels, and then the system reads and collates the information.
The MinION's components fit into a silver container smaller than an eyeglass case and can be carried in a pocket. A sample of plasma, serum, urine or blood can be injected with a pipette into a small hole inside the back cover. The results are immediately analyzed by software that loads on a laptop computer connected by a cable that fits into a port on the side of the MinION's case.
The technology might be refined to analyze microRNAs, which can be very early indicators of diseases including sepsis, a common cause of complications and death in elderly and post- operative hospital patients, Sanghera said.
The MinION will cost less than $1,000, Sanghera said. Its components can be removed, recycled and fitted with new ones at a reduced price, he said. The same MinION platform can be adapted for proteomics, the large-scale study of proteins, which govern the function of cells and their communication. Proteomics now requires separate mass spectroscopy equipment, he said.
"We really want to show that this platform can provide the whole enchilada," he said.
The GridION, intended for researchers and laboratories which make heavier use of gene sequencers, has 2,000 channels and can sequence a whole genome in less than a day, Sanghera said. The machine is about 18 inches square, comparable in size to early-generation videocassette players.
Oxford Nanopore will sell the GridION and then separately sell the single-use cassettes containing proprietary chemical reagents and other components, Sanghera said. The pricing structure is still being finalized, he said. A 96-well micro- assay tray can also be fitted to the cassette for processing multiple samples at the same time and additional units can be stacked on a rack to increase capacity for high-throughput screening.
"That allows people to tailor their throughput at a price point they can live with," Sanghera said.
Life Technologies CEO Greg Lucier said in an interview last week that he expects his company to take the top spot in genetic sequencing next year, ahead of current industry leader Illumina. Lucier cited the Ion Proton and Ion Torrent products as reasons that his company will supersede its competitors.
The Ion Proton business "will scale quite fast and move the overall top line of the company starting next year," Lucier said. "When you add the Ion Torrent, it's growing at just a breathtaking pace, that makes us the largest sequencing company starting in 2013. It will be very difficult for anyone to compete with that."