November 16, 2012
Kevin Davies : If there was a more popular booth at last week's American Society of Human Genetics conference (ASHG) in San Francisco, I didn't see it. For three days, the British company's executive team led by CEO Gordon Sanghera and CTO Cive Brown, along iwth Spike Willcocks (VP Business and Croporate Development), Kristen Stoops (Business Development Director), and a new recruit Adam Lowe (VP Commerical Operations), talked themselves hoarse but deflected all the predictable, tedious questions about launch dates and data release.
Sanghera told me the same thing he told countless others: the company was standing by what it had said when Brown presented preliminary data at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology (AGBT) conference last February: namely that it would be moving into its commercialization phase by the end of this year. I confess I don’t know what that means exactly – it doesn’t appear to mean that the GridION and MinION will be available for purchase before the New Year.
It’s stretching the definition of ‘commercialization’ pretty thin, but my best interpretation of Sanghera’s assertion was that the company was still on course to move into an important new phase en route to a full commercial launch by the end of the year.
That notion was reinforced when I independently heard during ASHG from one American source that their early access arrangement with Oxford Nanopore was slated to begin in January 2013. That should give those early partners a few weeks to pull some new data together for AGBT in 2013, right?
I saw little point in pressing the chaps for additional information, but Brown did offer a brief tour of the plumbing inside the GridION, which makes good use of field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), despite their notorious difficulty to program. Meanwhile, an earnest Yaniv Erlich (Whitehead Institute) helpfully tweeted this diagram of a MinION prototype:
The throngs gathered around the Nanopore booth inevitably diverted attention from some other interesting new products on display. Knome was showing off the new knosys100 supercomputer, an imposing piece of hardware that the execs said was drawing considerable interest from core lab directors. Meanwhile, Stan Gloss, CEO of the BioTeam, was unveiling a custom-designed Dell computer to run the firm’s affordable miniLIMS software. I was also impressed with Illumina’s new app store for BaseSpace, which is already attracting applications from a number of vendors.
One new platform that caught my eye (no pun intended) was the Irys system from BioNano Genomics. Founded by Han Cao, the San Diego company is preparing to ship instruments in the New Year. The Irys platform images DNA molecules over long distances (up to 1 megabase) by linearizing the DNA through a series of nanochannels. The images are stunning and should provide valuable data for de novo genome assemblies, detection of structural variations, and deconvolution of repetitive sequence in heterochromatic regions of the genome.
At $295,000, the Irys is not cheap, but it will be interesting to see if BioNano Genomics can lure customers away from existing technologies such as fiber-FISH or more established competitors such as OpGen.