Bio-Rad acquires GnuBIO

Powerful in-vitro droplet technology headlines life-science acquisition

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HERCULES, Calif.—Multinational life-science research and clinical diagnostics products manufacturer and distributor Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc., announced in April that it has acquired privately held life-sciences company GnuBIO Inc., which has been developing a powerful droplet-based DNA sequencing platform.
GnuBIO’s innovative in-vitro droplet technology served as a driving factor behind Bio-Rad’s interest in the acquisition and a key component in completing the deal. The system is reportedly the first fully integrated DNA sequencing platform that uses microfluidic and emulsion technology to perform complex, multiplexed reactions in droplets. The system integrates the entire in-vitro droplet sample preparation workflow onto a chip, which allows a technician or researcher to load genomic DNA into a cartridge and press a button to start a DNA sequencing run that is completed in a matter of hours, versus days required by other sequencing technologies. The platform is billed as a “sample in, answer out” solution for quantitative PCR applications.
The acquisition comes just two years after Bio-Rad began commercializing its Droplet Digital PCR (ddPCR) technology, which it acquired after purchasing QuantaLife Inc. in 2011 for $162 million in cash plus potential future milestone payments. Because the community of droplet technology developers is fairly small, GnuBIO had been on Bio-Rad’s radar for some time. Key members of GnuBIO’s staff became recognized as experts familiar with the technology.
By fall of 2013, Bio-Rad’s leadership believed GnuBIO would look for a partner to give them the best chance to get their droplet technology into the clinic. Bio-Rad’s strong position in the clinical in-vitro droplet market is expected to give GnuBIO’s new technology inroads into use in clinical settings.
“GnuBIO has been able to provide a very effective way of doing targeted sequencing, which we believe will be critical in getting NGS (next-generation sequencing) technology into the clinic,” says Brad Crutchfield, executive vice president and president of life science at Bio-Rad.
Researchers are currently using Bio-Rad’s ddPCR system to help solve research problems in a variety of applications including copy number variation, rare sequence detection, mutation detection, gene expression analysis of rare transcripts, miRNA analysis and next-generation sequencing sample quantification.
The acquisition of GnuBIO and its technology has sparked some speculation in the community about whether the move signals Bio-Rad’s intentions to enter the next-gen sequencing space.
“This is very much an applied approach for us,” says Crutchfield. “Our interest is not in entering NGS per se; this is a targeted sequencing approach consistent with questions that will be asked in the clinic. We think it’s a practical representation of technology—we’re not jumping into the deep end of the NGS marketplace.”
GnuBIO’s facilities and staff will remain intact and continue to operate in Cambridge, Mass. GnuBIO’s president, CEO and founder John Boyce will continue to head his team under its new auspices.
“We will invest in that facility as a center of excellence that will draw from the talent pool in greater Cambridge,” says Crutchfield. “Our intention is to link it with our Digital Biology Center in California, making it the Digital Biology Center Cambridge.”
Both parties have expressed optimism about the future of the technology and the prospects for introducing it into clinical settings as a result of the acquisition.
“Bio-Rad’s leading positions in the clinical IVD (in-vitro diagnostics) market as well as the Droplet Digital PCR space make Bio-Rad the ideal acquisition partner for us,” Boyce said in a press release issued at the time the acquisition was announced. “Bio-Rad’s reputation as well as its presence in both the clinical and research markets will be essential elements to the success of the GnuBIO platform. We are very excited to join the Bio-Rad family,” Boyce added.
“We believe GnuBIO’s innovative DNA workflow is well-suited for the clinical diagnostics sequencing market and will leverage Bio-Rad’s leadership role in the area of droplet digital PCR,” Bio-Rad’s president and CEO, Norman Schwartz, said in a media statement.
Bio-Rad designs, manufactures and distributes a broad range of products and solutions for the life science research and clinical diagnostic markets. It posted revenues exceeding $2.1 billion in 2013 and employs approximately 7,750 people. Bio-Rad is headquartered in California, where it operates its Digital Biology Center—launched in 2012—to develop products based on its Droplet Digital technology.

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