PacBio Nabs $109M to Make Cheaper, Faster Gene Sequencing Tools

Xconomy San Francisco — 

The idea of sequencing entire human genomes for $1,000 or less, in a matter of minutes, has never been hotter, if the flow of venture capital to Pacific Biosciences is any indication. The Menlo Park, CA-based developer of super-fast gene sequencing machines has raised another $109 million in a Series F round of financing.

The company, known as PacBio for short, has now snagged a total of about $370 million in venture capital since it was founded in 2004. The company didn’t say who invested in the latest round other than San Diego-based Gen-Probe (NASDAQ: GPRO), which said it pumped in $50 million last month. But PacBio has a long list of existing investors that include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Alloy Ventures, and Intel Capital—as well as few names more familiar on the public-company circuit—Morgan Stanley, T. Rowe Price, Deerfield Management, and AllianceBernstein.

The vision at PacBio is to develop new gene sequencing instrument powerful enough to deliver the complete genome sequence from a human being in about 15 minutes and for a few hundred dollars. It’s the kind of technology that could enable basic researchers to run all sorts of experiments about the subtle variations in DNA that make people different, and which differences in genetic coding might be related to disease and wellness. San Diego-based Gen-Probe invested in PacBio’s technology with an eye toward using this sequencing technology as a tool doctors could use to diagnose disease.

“These funds will be used to support our operations as we begin ramping production capabilities for the commercial launch of our PacBio RS system,” said Hugh Martin, PacBio’s chairman and CEO, in a statement.

The company didn’t say in today’s statement when the machine would be commercially available.

PacBio is facing intense competition in the field of gene sequencing. Mountain View, CA-based Complete Genomics is pursuing a different business model, in which it asks researchers to send samples to a central facility instead of asking them to buy an expensive machine and run it themselves. Guilford, CT and San Francisco-based Ion Torrent Systems wowed researchers at a meeting in March when it unveiled a benchtop sequencing machine that can perform a lot of a basic experiments in a machine that only costs $50,000. The incumbents in the field whose machines generally cost 10 times that much—San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) and Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE)—have been launching pre-emptive strikes against the upstarts by continual improvements that have brought the cost of sequencing a human genome down to about $10,000 today.