Genetic Future

More huge news in the sequencing industry, following on from the public share offer from Pacific Biosciences - relative newcomer to the field, Ion Torrent, has just been bought by Life Technologies for an impressive US$375 million in cash and stock, with an option to increase by a further US$350 million if “certain technical and time-based milestones” are met by the end of 2012.

Ion Torrent made a splash with its launch at this year’s Advances in Genome Biology and Technology meeting in February (here’s my coverage from the meeting). The company has developed a sequencing technology based on measuring the flow of hydrogen ions (produced as new letters are added to a DNA strand) through tiny pores in a semiconductor chip. 
While the initial specifications of the technology aren’t really competitive with existing second-generation sequencing platforms, Ion Torrent has a few key advantages: it’s cheap ($50,000 per machine and $500 per run, according to the promotion material at AGBT), quick, has a small footprint on the bench (especially compared to the mammoth Pacific Biosciences machine) and has potential for further development. In particular, its reliance on semiconductor technology means that developers can leverage rapid advances in that trillion-dollar industry to wring more and more bases out of the platform over time.
[Added in edit: interestingly, as Keith Robison highlights, Life Technologies appears to have backed away from the $50,000 price tag discussed at AGBT towards a more conservative "less than $100,000" price. However, it's unclear exactly what that price includes, so I'll seek clarification from Life before commenting any further on that.]  
Life Technologies already owns a second-generation sequencing platform – the SOLiD system – but has been struggling to compete against the current market-dominating technology from Illumina. This purchase represents a serious additional investment in sequencing from Life, on top of its ongoing research into an advanced “third-generation” sequencing technology that also debuted at AGBT.
The company thus now has a pretty diverse portfolio of sequencing technology at its disposal, but Illumina won’t go down without a fight: its recently launched HiSeq instrument is rapidly becoming the platform of choice for genome facilities around the world, and it also has purchased exclusive distribution rights to exonuclease
sequencing, a third-generation technology being developed by the
intriguingly stealthy Oxford Nanopore.
With the addition of (currently) independent competitors Complete Genomics and Pacific Biosciences, the stage is now set for a battle of truly mammoth proportions over the potentially enormous market for sequence-based diagnostics. Next year’s AGBT promises to be a fiery affair…
For more coverage, check out GenomeWeb; Luke Timmerman at Xconomy calls the purchase “a very aggressive move“, while Matthew Herper also has typically incisive analysis.

Comments

  1. #1 Aaron Rowe
    August 17, 2010

    It would be nice to know how much the investors in Ion Torrent made off of this deal, and what the founders are now worth.

  2. #2 Kevin
    August 18, 2010

    I am actually more curious if Life Tech will scrape the SOLID PI system now that they have a cheaper ‘Next-Generation Sequencing for Every Lab’ under their belt

  3. #3 Keith Robison
    August 18, 2010

    Illumina also owns the Avantome microfluidic pyrosequencing technology which they are apparently positioning for rapid diagnostics much as Ion Torrent might be,

  4. #4 Bill
    August 18, 2010

    This is a very interesting move…

    I wonder what will now happend to the solid, the starlight project and the newly launched 3500…..

    Cheers