Breaking into the market

Co-marketing deal gives Agilent a good opening to enter the next-gen sequencing market and gives Illumina customers a new and necessary tool

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DENVER—The American Association of Cancer Research's (AACR) 100th annual meeting in mid-April served as the scene for two of the pharma industry's heavy-hitters in automation and instrumentation—San Diego-based Illumina Inc. and Santa Clara, Calif.-based Agilent Technologies—to announce a non-exclusive co-marketing agreement to support a new, scalable solution for researchers conducting targeted resequencing studies.

The deal revolves around a combined solution that brings together the new Agilent SureSelect Target Enrichment System and Illumina's widely-adopted next-generation sequencing platform, the Genome Analyzer.

The companies note that SureSelect by itself provides researchers with a method for efficiently resequencing specific regions of interest in the genome, a cost-effective approach that reportedly simplifies laboratory processes and also provides even coverage and high alignment rates.

The companies say that when combined with Genome Analyzer, SureSelect allows researchers to conduct studies that otherwise would not be feasible. The new research protocol that the companies are touting will, they say, enable researchers "to interrogate multiple regions of interest in order to detect rare mutations, such as those commonly found in cancer, while taking advantage of low sample input requirements."

Targeted resequencing also is expected to enable scientists to sequence areas identified through genome-wide association studies in addition to sequencing candidate genes and candidate regions.

In a certain sense, the two companies were already involved with each other in regard to SureSelect, notes Dr. Fred Ernani, Agilent marketing manager for emerging genomic applications.

"We launched it very recently, at the end of February, and we had several early access customers with Illumina's Genome Analyzer. Also, we had initially optimized our work using the Genome Analyzer," he relates. "We're looking to have a place in the next-generation sequencing market and we wanted to reach a wide audience quickly. We've had lots of good feedback from the early access customers that use Genome Analyzer and it seemed like a really good partnership at this moment in time given the state of the technology on both sides."

On the other side of the aisle, Illumina wanted its customers to have a good tool for targeted resequencing, so it made sense for them to throw in with Agilent, Ernani notes.

That sentiment was echoed by Jay Flatley, president and CEO of Illumina, in a news release about the deal, when he said, "A partnership with Agilent underscores our commitment to build upon the utility of our next-generation sequencing technology, helping researchers plan and execute studies at a scale never before possible."

Noting that Illumina continues to expand its portfolio of solutions with powerful tools for studying genetic variation, Flatley added, "This [combined] solution provides the research community with a cost-effective, automation-friendly, and flexible approach to targeted resequencing for a wide variety of applications."

There aren't any specific plans for any other work between the two companies, but as Ernani notes, "Agilent is looking to get this technology into the hand of next-gen sequencing users out there and we're always looking for other opportunities to expand our market share and reach more customers. But at this point, there is nothing else specifically planned with Illumina or anyone else working in this area."

Which isn't to say that Agilent doesn't have any other next-gen sequencing news. As Ernani points out, the large variety and wide range of products that his company has "means there are many entry points into the next-gen sequencing workflow. We also introduced a high-sensitivity DNA kit for our Bioanalyzer lab-on-a-chip product in April, which like SureSelect is aimed right at this market."

"This is the most sensitive DNA detection method of all gel- and microfluidics-based systems currently on the market," says Knut Wintergerst, Agilent electrophoresis marketing and support manager, of the new Bioanalyzer kit. "The advent of next generation sequencing has dramatically changed the genetic landscape by significantly decreasing costs of a whole genome sequencing project while increasing experimental speed. Researchers need high quality DNA data quickly and Agilent has created a kit that provides just that."

Another promising avenue for Agilent in really break into the next-gen sequencing market would be its automated solutions business unit, Ernani notes, "which fits very well into next-gen sequencing too, just like SureSelect and Bioanalyzer."

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