NanoString Rolls Out Souped-Up DNA Analysis Instrument at Genetics Confab

Xconomy Seattle — 

[Update: 7:45 am Pacific 10/13] NanoString Technologies has spent much of the last year talking about its foray into diagnostic applications for its basic genetic analysis tool, but today it’s talking to researchers simply about getting some more oomph out of the machine.

Seattle-based NanoString said today, in an announcement at the International Congress of Human Genetics and American Society of Human Genetics conference in Montreal, that it has begun selling its second-generation tool called nCounter. The instrument provides a digital readout on the extent to which genes are dialed on or off in a sample—what’s known as gene expression analysis. The company said the next-generation instrument is supposed to have 50 percent higher bandwidth (known as throughput in the genetics business); more flexible software for analyzing the data from the instrument; and hardware that can be used by basic researchers, but that is manufactured in sync with more rigorous, consistent diagnostic industry standards.

The tool was first released for commercial use in 2008. Last December, NanoString showed where it is going with this tool, by acquiring intellectual property for a 50-gene signature that provides information on breast cancer prognosis. Rather than with simpler single-gene disorders that are already easy to spot, NanoString is hoping to find its niche in these kind of complex “multi-factorial” diseases, in which researchers might want to look at patterns of 50 or 100 genes in hundreds, or thousands, of patients.

The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT in Cambridge, MA, one of the world’s leading genomics hothouses and an early adopter of the NanoString technology, will be the first customer to get a second generation machine, the company said. The Broad Institute will get two of the new NanoString machines, meaning it will have a total of five. The Broad Institute said it is using the company’s tools for its work on infectious disease, metabolic diseases, and cancer.

“We are looking forward to the next generation nCounter system to accelerate some of our larger projects,” said Nir Hacohen, a senior associate member of the Broad Institute, in a NanoString statement.

[Update with comment from NanoString CEO Brad Gray, and correction on his location.] NanoString originally started selling its first nCounter for $235,000, and it plans to charge the same amount for the new instrument, NanoString CEO Brad Gray says. Here’s more of what he had to say in e-mail: [An earlier version said Gray wrote the e-mail from the genetics conference in Montreal. He was actually in Seattle, coordinating with employees in Montreal.]

As we had hoped, the attendees of the ASHG meeting have given us a very positive response to the introduction of our second-generation nCounter system. During the first few hours of the show this morning booth traffic was heavy, and our sales team members were presenting to groups of two or three customers at once. We also ran a symposium on the use of the nCounter system for measuring copy number variations (CNVs), which had very high quality and engaged attendees. Attendees as far away as Europe are now in the process of discussing pilot projects for CNV, which bodes well for future system installs driven by this application.

The first generation nCounter system measured gene expression on up to 800 genes simultaneously, with unparalleled data quality and ease of use. Our second-generation system, coupled with our new nSolver software, will allow researchers to quickly run even larger studies, and manipulate the large data sets they generate even more easily. The nSolver software, included with the system, will allow export of data to the industry-standard visualization software packages such as Ingenuity Systems pathway analysis software. This further extends the advantages of using nCounter for large translational research studies of hundreds and thousands of samples. In addition, the diagnostic-quality hardware will provide researchers with both superior reliability, and with confidence that NanoString is committed to collaborating with our customers to translate their gene signature “content” into nCounter-based in vitro diagnostic products.

To answer the question on pricing that you posed in today’s Xconomy article, we are introducing the second generation nCounter at the same price as we had sold our first generation system. With the additional performance and features at the same price, we feel great about the value we are providing our customers.