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...