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May 3, 2012

Oxford Nanopore to Pocket £31.4M to Advance Single-Molecule Detection Technology

  • Oxford Nanopore says that it raised £31.4 million (about $50.78 million) in new funding via a private placement of ordinary shares in the company. This transaction brings the total funds raised since the company's foundation in 2005 to £105.4 million. The company is developing a novel technology for direct, electronic detection and analysis of single molecules using nanopores, with its lead application in DNA sequencing.

    "This round of funding, nearly all of which comes from existing investors, will support a range of corporate development activities including the development of our commercial infrastructure, expansion of our manufacturing function, and further R&D for our DNA/RNA sequencing and protein/miRNA analysis applications," says Gordon Sanghera, D. Phil., CEO of Oxford Nanopore. “We will also continue to maintain our leadership position in nanopore innovation through maintenance and expansion of our broad intellectual property portfolio.”

    Oxford Nanopore’s MinION is set to go on sale in the second half of this year. The company says the machine will cost less than $900. Way smaller than a bread basket, the MinION is about the size of a USB thumb drive. The company described the device as well as its bigger sibling, the GridION system, on February 17.

    The MinION can be plugged into a laptop’s USB port. The GridION, a larger version of the machine, can be stacked to increase processing power. The MinION, said to deliver 150 megabases of DNA sequences per hour, is intended for one-time use only and will sequence up to a million bases. The systems will reportedly be priced in packages that include instruments and consumables.

    The sequencers are based on the company’s nanopore “strand sequencing” technology combined with the two electronic devices, GridION and MinION. Oxford explains that its technology uses an array of protein nanopores embedded in a polymer membrane. Each nanopore sequences multiple strands of DNA from solution in succession, as individual strands are passed through the nanopore by a proprietary “processive” enzyme. Base identification is accomplished by identifying characteristic electronic signals.

    These signals are created by unique combinations of DNA bases as they pass through a specially engineered region inside the nanopore. DNA and enzyme are mixed in solution, engage with the nanopore for sequencing, and once the strand has been completed, a new strand is loaded into the nanopore for sequencing. The technology does not require sample amplification; the company says that any user-derived sample preparation that yields dsDNA will work with the system.

    Besides DNA strand sequencing, the firm is also developing the platform for DNA exonuclease sequencing. It is also developing a protein-analysis technology that combines target proteins, aptamers, and nanopores for direct electronic analyses of those target proteins. These nanopore sensing techniques are combined with the company’s electronics-based GridION and MinION systems. The company also has collaborations for the development of solid-state nanopores.

    Oxford Nanopore is separately developing solid-state nanopores for molecular characterization. To this end the firm recently negotiated exclusive rights to Harvard University’s graphene technology for applications in nucleic acid sequencing. The agreement covers the use of graphene for analyzing DNA and RNA, and it builds on an existing nanopore-sensing collaboration between the two organizations.

    Oxford Nanopore has additional collaborations with the University of Oxford and University of California Santa Cruz. The company has licensed or owns more than 350 patents and patent applications that relate to many aspects of nanopore sensing from protein nanopores to solid-state nanopores and for the analysis of DNA, proteins, and other molecules. This includes the use of functionalized solid-state nanopores for molecular characterization, methods of fabricating solid-state nanopores, and modifications of solid-state nanopores to adjust sensitivity or other parameters.


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