BGI Genomics has agreed to purchase an additional 10 Sequel® System sequencers from Pacific Biosciences (PacBio) of California for an undisclosed price, PacBio said today.

PacBio said the transaction will significantly expand the Single Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT®) sequencing capacity of BGI’s global sequencing service business. That business now operates two Sequel Systems as well as an RS II Sequencing System, also made by PacBio.

PacBio launched Sequel System in September 2015. The system uses a redesigned version of the company’s SMRT Cells that contain 1 million zero-mode waveguides (ZMWs) at launch, compared to 150,000 ZMWs in the PacBio RS II. The redesigned SMRT cells offer increased run-time flexibility, which stretches from 30 minutes to 10 hours for Sequel, compared with 30 minutes to 6 hours for RS II.

Sequel is also designed to deliver about seven times as many reads per SMRT Cell as the PacBio RS II—which according to PacBio should enable customers to reduce their costs and shorten their timeframes for sequencing projects, with approximately half the up-front capital investment compared to previous technology.

Sequel is intended for projects that entail rapid generation of high-quality, whole-genome de novo assemblies for larger genomes, such as human, plants, and animals. PacBio says the system can characterize a wide variety of genomic variation types, including those in complex regions not accessible with short-read or synthetic long-range sequencing technologies, while simultaneously revealing epigenetic information—as well as generate data for full-length transcriptomes and targeted transcripts using the company’s Iso-Seq™ protocol.

“The addition of the Sequel Systems enables BGI to increase capacity and offer additional services in whole genome re-sequencing and other long-read-based applications,” Gao Qiang, CEO of BGI Tech, said in a statement. “We have been very impressed with the SMRT Sequencing technology.

Conservation Biology Focus

Qiang added: “The Sequel System will allow BGI to meet the growing demand for SMRT Sequencing services for bacterial, plant, and animal de novo, transcriptomics, and epigenomics sequencing, and also in fields outside of agriculture, such as in conservation biology.”

During the J.P. Morgan 36th Annual Healthcare Conference, held January 7–11 in San Francisco, BGI launched a SMRT-based sequencing service focused on conservation biology, the Life Periodic Plan. The plan aims to data mine species through sequencing to deliver digital data on all animals and plants on earth—”and eventually elucidating the laws of life hidden within the data,” according to a company statement.

BGI has trumpeted the Life Periodic Plan as a tool toward protecting endangered animals and plants, as well as maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance on earth.

BGI said it will use crowdfunding to finance the project. In its first phase, the Life Periodic Plan will generate data on the existing 27 orders and 157 families of mammals, with BGI requesting volunteers from within the company and its collaboration partners to choose individual families to sequence.

As of January 11, when the plan was announced, more than 127 mammalian families had been claimed by group leaders, who will direct genomics analysis, interpretation, and knowledge dissemination efforts connected with the species.

The plant section of the Life Periodic Plan will be launched shortly,” BGI said at the time.

BGI laid the foundation for the expansion in 2016 when, with Chinese government support, the company opened the China National GeneBank in Shenzhen as a repository for genetic information from animals, plants, and microorganisms, as well as humans.

BGI Genomics cited the launch of new services as among uses for the RMB 547 million (about $86.6 million) in proceeds the company raised when it completed its initial public offering (IPO) in July 2017. That IPO was the 25th largest IPO of the Top 25 Biopharma IPOs of 2017, according to GEN research.

PacBio Customer Since 2015

BGI purchased its first SMRT sequencing system when it bought its RS II in May 2015 from PacBio, which said at the time that the Chinese sequencing giant planned to purchase additional units in order to integrate long-read capability into its global service business.

Less than a year later, in January 2016, BGI ordered its first Sequel System, with plans to purchase additional units announced by PacBio back then.

PacBio launched Sequel in September 2015, four years after introducing RS II to market. RS II was intended for customers pursuing whole-genome sequencing of small genomes, targeted sequencing, complex population analysis, RNA sequencing of targeted transcripts, and microbial epigenetics.

PacBio’s Sequel and RS II are among numerous sequencing systems employed by BGI. Other systems used by BGI include Illumina’s HiSeq 4000 and MiSeq systems and Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Ion Torrent Personal Genome Machine (PGM), a small benchtop sequencer.

BGI also employs its own BGISEQ-50, a compact sequencer launched in 2016 and based on combinatorial probe-anchor synthesis (cPAS) developed by Complete Genomics, now a BGI subsidiary, and improved DNA nanoballs (DNB) technology.


“2020” Vision

At the J.P. Morgan conference, BGI Genomics CEO Ye Yin also announced the company’s “2020 Program,” which aims to deliver human whole-genome sample sequencing, including sample preparation and data analysis, within 24 hours for under $300 by the year 2020.

The 2020 Program includes BGI’s bioinformatics cloud computing platform BGI Online, as well as a sequencing-focused computing equipment partnership with Intel and Alibaba Cloud.

Yin said BGI Genomics had successfully sequenced the genomes of over 10,000 human samples since 2016 when it used BGISEQ-50 to launch a $600 whole-genome sequencing service—the lowest-priced in the industry, according to the company. An additional 20,000 samples are currently being processed, the company added.

BGI Genomics is the division of BGI Group that offers next-generation sequencing and clinical testing services for academic research, drug development, and diagnostics.

Headquartered in Shenzhen, China, BGI Genomics has branches and medical laboratories in many of China’s major cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, Wuhan, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. The company currently operates in more than 100 countries and regions worldwide—including sites in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region—and works with more than 3000 medical institutions and more than 300 hospitals.

In the U.S., BGI Genomics has offices and labs in Cambridge, MA, San Jose, CA, and Seattle, WA. The company’s key North American hub in Cambridge oversees main services that include exome sequencing, RNA sequencing, and next-generation sequencing laboratory support services.

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