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Mar 1, 2012 (Vol. 32, No. 5)

Democratizing NGS Platforms

Reduced Costs Making Next-Generation Sequencing Technologies More Accessible

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    The pace of innovation occurring in genomics research is most evident when looking at the rapid evolution of next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies. Since its introduction in 2005, NGS has rapidly established itself at the high-end of the sequencing market. However, the increasing accessibility and recent affordability of some NGS platforms and the emergence of third-generation technologies will create new research opportunities for a broader spectrum of scientists over the next several years.

    Given the dynamic nature of this technology and of the genomics market in general, BioInformatics has produced a report detailing current and future NGS usage, critical platform drivers, and NGS workflow needs.

    The Global Outlook for Next Generation Sequencing: Usage, Platform Drivers & Workflow is designed to help NGS platform providers and other life science suppliers that offer supporting products and services better grow their NGS-focused business units. While the majority of study respondents indicate that they use their platform provider’s kits and reagents, increasingly attractive alternatives are being offered by nonplatform providers for sample preparation, sample selection, and sample amplification, which continue to undergo enhancements.

    Furthermore, while many respondents indicate that they perform much of their NGS workflow in-house, some of the more challenging steps—such as presequencing amplification, data acquisition, and data analysis—are more likely to be outsourced. Providers of these services are striving to develop more streamlined and fully integrated systems with the ultimate goal of providing significant biological insights to scientists who do not have direct access to NGS technologies.

    For NGS platform providers hoping to obtain larger market share, it should be noted that the majority of scientists planning to adopt NGS are likely to do so within the next 12 months. In fact, approximately 60% of all survey respondents indicate that their labs are likely to purchase a new NGS platform by 2013. This is a critical time frame for providers as differences in technology and lower platform and operating costs may not be sufficient to distinguish one’s product offering from competitors.

    Respondents consider multiple factors when selecting a NGS provider—both provider-specific and platform-specific—with a provider’s degree of technological innovation and level of technical support being two of the most important factors. In particular, technical support may be an important consideration, as efficient problem-solving and minimizing down time are critical for such an expensive instrument.

    As the market for NGS continues to grow and scientists become even more discriminating about an expanding selection of platform and supporting products, NGS providers will need to focus on how to provide added value to their customers’ NGS workflows while addressing current bottlenecks.

    Respondents are interested in a variety of improvements to their NGS workflows, but the most common are enhanced analytical software, lower cost per base, and longer read lengths.

    Performing NGS data analysis and interpreting the significance of this data are the two most difficult (and time-consuming) workflow steps. However, respondents are much more likely to outsource data analysis than data interpretation likely due to an inherent bias that only they are uniquely qualified to decipher the meaning of their data (given their knowledge and familiarity with the particular focus of the research).

    By knowing the types of NGS applications that scientists would like to explore, which they cannot readily do so with the existing technology, providers can expand their existing product lines or develop complimentary ones that will enable the realization of these novel applications. Data in this report suggests that the future focus of NGS applications will move from basic research exploring genome sequence and function to more of an emphasis on translational research targeting cancer and systems biology.

    Furthermore, as the cost of NGS sequencing continues to fall, scientists will be able to sequence human genomes on a size scale that will reveal subtle gene variations, which would finally make personalized medicine a viable commercial opportunity for many pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

    While not all labs can afford to buy a NGS platform, the ability to outsource sequencing to a core facility or service provider makes the technology accessible to more researchers. However, the high cost per base is still a limiting factor for many respondents. Lowering costs will open new NGS markets, including diagnostics, forensics, agriculture, and biofuels.


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