24 October 2017
George Coe By George Coe

Next Generation Sequencing Who is the Next Illumina?

Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) has been the biggest development in biologics since Friedrich Mierscher first found and isolated DNA. The ground breaking technology has given us the ability to truly see what it is that makes us human.

The technology has already led to improved healthcare, a better understanding of cancer and drug development as well as improved farming and agriculture.

The latest application of the technology has even seen personalised NGS – whereby Helix, will sequence your genome for a fee, before buying separate phone apps that will give you different bits of information. For example, if you have red hair, you might have more in common with Neanderthals than you think.

Prehistoric humans aside, the NGS market is expected to reach over $12 Billion by 2022 – so it’s big business, with a lot of potential.

The Major Players

It was Solexa, subsequently acquired by Illumina, that really blazed the trail, and that takeover has since seen them dominate the market. While Pacific Biosciences, Ion Torrent (Thermofisher) and Roche have all attempted to stake a claim, none of them have managed to take a foothold in what has quickly become a monopolistic market.

The Solexa team - often seen as the founders of Next Generation Sequencing

So how can a smaller player make waves in Illumina’s market? Could we see a change? Well, Illumina’s instruments are not perfect. The cost per run is still not low enough to revolutionise the broader healthcare market and they are still very much bench based, so a low cost, portable device could be the solution.

The MinION device

Oxford Nanopore seem to be making headway, especially with their most recent launch of the MinION. This tiny, versatile system has actually been used to sequence in space. So that could be one to watch out for.

East coast based Gnu Bio were developing their own platform that incorporated all aspects of NGS (target selection, DNA amplification, DNA sequencing and analysis). This technology intrigued a lot of the market, including Bio-rad, who liked it so much that they purchased the company, and moved them in-house. However, that gamble hasn’t paid off, and the last week has seen Bio-rad close the department down to pursue other genomic avenues. Gnu Bio’s attempts at wrestling away market control are now, unfortunately, over.

One company that hasn’t been acquired and is close to a product launch is Genapsys. The “GENIUS” platform promises to change the healthcare world and has received heavy investment so far.

Genius by name, Genius by nature?

They’ve been backed by Facebook multi billionaire Yuri Milner, who has helped raise $37 Million dollars into the company. Genapsys are looking to create an iPad sized sequencer that, unlike the MinION, doesn’t sequence one molecule at a time. Genapsys CEO Hessam Esfandyarpour believes that single molecule sequencing isn’t accurate or cheap enough, so is pursuing an alternative method. Little is known about the performance of the machine and exactly how close they are to the launch, but from a recruitment perspective, they don’t look to be far away, which promises to shake up the market.

The next system in the market?

Moving back to the east coast. Nabsys are another start up developing their own platform. Their technology uses nano detectors to sequence DNA. Their CEO Barret Brady has helped to raise over $50 million in funding and helped grow the company to 50 employees. Unlike Genapsys, Nabsys have claimed that their platform will go commercial in 2018 for around $25,000. Its been some time since we’ve seen a new platform hit the market, it will be interesting to see how the system performs. 

Staying on the west coast is Stratos Genomics, headed by CEO Mark Kokoris. Stratos are developing their own ‘4th Generation Sequencing technology’. They claim to have found a perfectly versatile, cheap and high performing technology to sequence the genome that uses ‘sequencing by expansion’, a very interesting concept and totally different to anything currently on the market. Having raised just under $40 million, many in the market agree with them. Therefore, 4th generation sequencing could be the next milestone we see passed. When it comes to timing, Stratos are even more secretive about their technology than Genapsys, so little is known what stage it is at. But from speaking with people at Stratos, my understanding is that the chemistry is pretty much all there.

The proof will be in the pudding with these companies; there may well be other potential players, but I believe that Genapsys and Stratos could really shake things up if and when they come to market. I think that it will do the industry a lot of good too - the rewards of somebody really taking Illumina on could be huge. As in any monopolistic market, products are expensive and competition breeds innovation and overall a better product or service for the customer.

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George Coe

George Coe works across genomics and cellular biology, partnering with companies and candidates who are at the very forefront of research today. He is fascinated by the way in which genomics is going to affect our everyday lives and the growing regulations surrounding the technology.

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