Deals

Amgen sharpens focus on genetic sequencing with $66M investment

Reinforcing its ability to identify and validate disease targets, Amgen $AMGN on Thursday said it would fork out £50 million ($66 million) to buy shares in privately-held Oxford Nanopore Technologies, which has developed the first portable DNA/RNA sequencer and has so far raised nearly half a billion pounds in funding.

The new investment builds on Amgen’s acquisition of deCODE Genetics back in 2012 for $415 million.

Kári Stefánsson

The Oxford, UK-based company, founded in 2005, aims to enable the “genetic analysis of any living thing, by any person, in any environment” and is currently valued at £1.5 billion. Oxford Nanopore’s technology utilizes nanopores — nano-scale holes made by proteins contained within a synthetic membrane — in combination with electronics to perform real-time DNA and RNA sequencing for a range of biological research applications, including large scale human genomics, cancer and environmental research.

It took over a decade and nearly $3 billion for scientists to sequence the first human genome back in 2003.

Despite advances in gene-sequencing platforms, including products offered by Illumina $ILMN, most technologies typically deliver a bolus of data at the end of a fixed “run” that may be hours or days long. Oxford Nanopore’s sequencers, however, provide information in real time, which could be crucial in the field of diagnostics, for example. The company’s technology is also scalable, unlike many of the bulky devices sold by Illumina and Pacific Biosciences $PACB, ranging from pocket sized to bench-top devices. In addition, the company’s technology sequences whatever length fragment you give it, unlike traditional short read technologies that are powered to sequence small fragments of DNA, typically 150-300 bases.

In fact, Illumina itself is an investor and partner of Oxford Nanopore, having joined a couple of funding rounds and inked a marketing deal between 2009 and 2010.

“Oxford Nanopore’s long-read sequencing capability creates a window into parts of the genome that have been out of reach, as well as giving us a much better handle on structural variants that confer risk of a wide variety of diseases,” said Kári Stefánsson, founder of Amgen subsidiary deCODE Genetics, which has been using Oxford Nanopore’s technology.

The company, whose products are in use in over 80 countries, has raised £451 million in funding thus far.


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