Illumina shines light on Helixis acquisition

Company announces purchase, launch of new PCR product in Q2 financial report

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SAN DIEGO—During its second-quarter financial report and conference call in late July, Illumina Inc., a leading competitor in the next-generation sequencing (NGS) space, told analysts that it has acquired Helixis of Carlsbad, Calif., for $70 million in cash, plus $35 million in contingent considerations.

The acquisition was apparently made months earlier, but wasn't made public until the company announced its Q2 results. Still, industry observers were not taken completely by surprise, given that Illumina CEO Jay Flatley joined Helixis' board last year as it finalized plans to launch its new PCR product.

Helixis CEO Alex Dickinson has agreed to join Illumina as a senior vice president, and in the coming weeks will assist in the introduction of the new Eco Real-Time PCR system.
The unit is small enough to sit on the average lab bench, costs less than one-fourth of larger systems on the market and is said to be more accurate and reliable. Helixis' goal was to develop a lab bench tool that any biologist could use to precisely measure how DNA is switched on or off in a given sample to study genetic variation and function.

While the big-standard machines sold by competitors like Life Technologies, Bio-Rad Laboratories and Roche can cost as much as $50,000, the new Illumina system will attempt to reach a much broader market at a much lower price—$13,900. That price should make it suitable for "personal use in the laboratory," said Flatley in his comments to industry analysts.

The compact (approximately one cubic-foot) design and 48-well plate format were specifically tailored to meet the needs of the individual researcher. Installation and use are simple, the company claims, and are assisted by icon-driven software with smart default protocols.

The company also plans an array of products specifically designed for the Eco Real-Time unit. Flatley states that the new system will "be disruptive to the marketplace at its introductory price." He adds that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) faces a new way of thinking about clinical trials, with arrays replacing single analytes. To meet anticipated demand, Illumina is scaling up manufacturing at a feverish pace, he says.

With Eco Real-Time PCR on the front end, there should be good synergies with the Illumina HiSeq 2000 sequencer, he adds. Already, the production of the latter system is being ramped up by 50 percent in Q3, after a 30 percent increase in sales in Q2 for its sequencing products. Both its microarray and sequencing consumables showed similar gains. Growth was led by Europe but sales in all regions were strong.

"We believe the Eco Real-Time PCR System will set new standards for performance, simplicity and affordability," says Christian Henry, Illumina's senior vice president and general manager of life sciences, of the system that promises to extend the access of real-time PCR applications to the individual bench scientist.

Among the key features of the Eco system are its true four-color multiplexing and high-resolution melting analysis (HRM), use of all standard real-time PCR chemistries, and ability to perform fast PCR using standard chemistries. The unit produces "industry leading data quality and reproducibility with well-to-well uniformity five times that of other commercially-available, far more costly Real-Time PCR systems," the company claims.

"The system will enable us to address a broad range of applications and markets and is highly complementary to our industry-leading sequencing and array platforms," Henry adds.

Illumina was scheduled to begin shipping the Eco system in August.

Helixis' investors were rewarded with an excellent return on their investment. The company was founded in 2007 with a $10 million investment from Domain Associates, Advanced Technology Ventures and Okapi Venture Capital. In October, Xconomy reported on a regulatory filing that showed the company had raised another $7.3 million.

Illumina launches global genome sequencing network

SAN DIEGO—Illumina Inc. also recently announced the launch of the Illumina Genome Network, a global partnership designed to link researchers interested in conducting large-scale, whole-human genome sequencing projects with leading institutions that can perform such projects using Illumina sequencing. According to Illumina, the Genome Network will provide researchers who do not have access to high-quality, next-generation sequencing technology an economical and dependable way to complete their sequencing projects.

Illumina will begin offering whole-human genome sequencing services through the network immediately.

Participating institutions must have completed Illumina's Certified Service Provider certification. GMI/Macrogen Inc. and the National Center for Genome Resources have already enrolled as partners in the Network. Illumina says it is in discussions with a number of other institutions about joining the network.

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