Personalized medicine is now becoming a reality thanks to next-gen sequencing. Illumina still remains Number 1 in the field, but Oxford Nanopore is on its way up to the top of the charts. The UK-based company raised €100M to become a serious challenger with its cheap and small technology.
Oxford Nanopore Technologies, a spin out from the University of Oxford, developed quite a ground-breaking technology, that could revolutionize the way we are able to sequence entire genomes. The big advantages of the technology lie in the fact that it minimizes size and costs of genome sequencing. The portable device is no bigger than a mere Iphone. And whilst the costs for sequencing decreased from $100M to less then $10k within the last ten years, Nanopore’s technology lowers the costs to under $1k per genome.
The Oxford-based company uses nanopore channels made out of transmembrane cellular proteins that are embedded in a synthetic polymer membrane. Much like in our neurons, a potential is applied across the membrane and current only flows through the aperture of the nanopore. An enzyme unzipes the double stranded DNA and guides the single strand through the nanopore, one base at a time. Each nucleotide changes the current through the nanopore in a characterisitc way, which represents a direct reading of the DNA sequence. The technology is vividly explained in this video:
Back in september 2014, we wrote about Nanopore shipping their DNA sequencing devices to scientists from all over the world to receive as much feedback as possible. Since then, the company has been working on the devices’ speed, which approximated to 30 bases per second per nanopore. Also, they modified the nanopores containing cells to improve the accuracy of the device. This was actually the major drawback of the company’s technology. Compared to Illumina’s sequencer and its 99,9% accuracy rate, Nanopore’s device had its work cut out since it only scored 60% to 85% in accuracy in 2014.
Now, new money is on the way to futher optimize their technology: Nanopore raised £70M (€100M) through a private placement, twice as much as its last $50M fundraising back in 2014. This transaction brings the total funds raised by the company to £251 million. Both new and existing investors in the UK, US and mainland Europe subscribed to the fundraising. Illumina, world leader in Next-gen sequencing and former investor of Nanopore, however, wasn’t mentioned.
After a big dispute between the two companies, Illumina’s 13.5% shareholding in Oxford Nanopore was acquired by other investors back in 2013. Nanopore’s main competitor has still the rights to negotiate for Oxford’s strand sequencing technology until the end of 2016, but that seems not very likely to happen. Illumina has other troubles with Qiagen moving into the next-gen sequencing space.
With its awesome technology, that lowers costs and hardly takes any place, Nanopore offers a real alternative to the existing sequencing technologies. Illumina still dominates the market, but the new money could allow the British company to beat up the field.