Agilent Technologies is putting its muscle behind the next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology firm Lasergen. The instrumentation giant is investing $80 million in the hopes that Lasergen’s sequencing chemistry will yield Agilent its first NGS system.
For its money, Agilent gets a 48% stake in Houston-based Lasergen and the option to acquire the rest for $105 million within two years.
“An NGS platform would enhance Agilent’s competitive positioning, given the company’s existing expertise in complementary areas of the workflow,” including sample prep, arrays, and automation, Goldman Sachs stock analyst Isaac Ro said in a recent report to clients.
Lasergen has been trying to commercialize technology that emerged from Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine around 2002. The 20-person company talked publicly about building a prototype system in 2011 but has been quiet for the past four years.
Agilent is betting on Lasergen’s chemistry translating into faster, cheaper, and more accurate sequencing than existing methods. Although NGS competitors such as Illumina and Pacific Biosciences use similar cleavable labels to image gene sequences, Lasergen claims that its photocleavable terminators offer more robust properties and faster reaction kinetics.
And rather than pursue the high-end research market, Agilent intends to target clinical NGS applications with an integrated system and workflow for routine analysis.
Although Ro has his doubts about how well Lasergen’s technology will ultimately compete against others, the new partners are confident that they can develop a system within three to four years and that it will find a place in a clinical market they predict will be worth at least $2 billion annually.