Roche beefs up diagnostic arm with another bet on faster, cheaper DNA sequencing
While Roche pours half a billion dollars into its Covid-19 antibody test, the Swiss company is quietly beefing up the rest of their diagnostics arm.
Roche today acquired Stratos Genomics, a Seattle-based developer of a new DNA technology designed to make genetic strands more easy to read. Roche said it will use the Stratos technology, alongside its existing efforts, to develop a nanopore sequencing device that can quickly and cheaply read patients’ DNA in clinics to diagnosis disease and assess the risk of developing one.
”We are thrilled to join the Roche family, which will allow us to combine our unique Sequencing by Expansion chemistry with the Roche nanopore sequencer,” Stratos CEO Mark Kokoris said in a statement.
Though known chiefly for therapeutics, Roche has long had a strong — almost aggressive — interest in diagnostic sequencing. In 2012, the company attempted a $5.7 billion hostile takeover of the sequencing giant Illumina, going directly to shareholders after failed efforts to start talks with management. At the time, that price tag was a 63% premium on Illumina’s stock price. Today, the company is worth $55 billion.
The same year, Oxford Nanopore unveiled its first disposable sequencing device. It promised to used nanopore sequencing — a process that involves drawing a long strand of DNA through a tiny organic pore with an electrical current — to read DNA for less than $900, a crucial step for making genetic sequencing accessible in a doctor’s office. It’s an area in which Roche has long been interested; the company acquired the sequencing company 454 Life Sciences back in 2007 and signed a partnership with Pacific Bio in 2013, though they broke it off 3 years later, setting the stage for a failed buyout by Illumina.
Stratos tries to expand on the traditional nanopore approach with the development of a molecule it calls an “Xpandomer.” This molecule comes in 4 types — one for each different DNA base pair. The idea is that before sending the strand through a nanopore, these molecules will bind to it, base by base, and amplify the signal 50-fold, leading to a more accurate readout.
The company will continue to operate in Seattle. There is no timeline yet for the completion of Roche’s nanopore device.