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Biological Chemistry

Sequence Of Events

Technology: Roche acquires Genia, repositioning itself in the next-generation sequencing race

by Ann M. Thayer
June 9, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 23

Credit: Roche
A Roche scientist performs a gene-sequencing experiment with an instrument made by 454 Life Sciences.
Roche scientist performs a gene sequencing experiment on a Genome Sequencer FLX.
Credit: Roche
A Roche scientist performs a gene-sequencing experiment with an instrument made by 454 Life Sciences.

Roche has acquired Genia Technologies, a privately held gene-sequencing company based in Mountain View, Calif. The Swiss drug and diagnostics company is looking to bolster its standing in the next-generation sequencing field after recent setbacks.

Roche sees its purchase as a step toward introducing “a potentially disruptive technology to the market,” says Roland Diggelmann, chief operating officer of Roche Diagnostics. To do so, Roche is willing to pay Genia’s shareholders $125 million in cash and up to $225 million in milestone payments.

Founded in 2009, Genia is developing a semiconductor-based system using nanopore technology for massively parallel, single-molecule DNA sequencing. Much of the core technology came from work with professors Jingyue Ju at Columbia University and George Church at Harvard University.

Genia’s approach uses an assembly of protein pores in a lipid bilayer. Single nucleotides are identified through base-specific tags that are cleaved from the sequence and detected electrically as they pass through the pores. The method allows for real-time analysis without the need for complex sample preparation or optical detection, the firm says.

If it launches its first product this year as hoped, Genia will compete with Illumina, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, and others. According to a recent survey by Mizuho Securities USA , users are predominantly buying Illumina’s optical systems but see Oxford’s electronic nanopore technology as having a greater impact on the field. In January, Illumina introduced a system that broke the fabled $1,000 cost barrier for genome sequencing. Genia, however, believes its sequencer can make “the $100 genome a reality.”

If that goal is realized, it will be quite a boost for Roche, which sought to acquire Illumina for $6.8 billion in early 2012. But Roche was turned down and about a year later retrenched, dissolving some sequencing operations. It returned a semiconductor-based sequencing project to England’s DNA Electronics and ended a nanopore-based sequencing partnership with IBM.

By late 2013, Roche also decided to wind down operations at 454 Life Sciences, a next-generation sequencing firm it had acquired in 2007 for about $160 million. Roche will now integrate Genia into its remaining gene-sequencing business.



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