By Malorye A. Branca
July 14, 2004 | Founded in April 2001 around a novel technology for direct analysis of DNA, US Genomics is one of several companies aiming to break the $1,000 barrier for sequencing a human genome. The company has pushed that goal out, however, to focus on products with more immediate commercial potential. It just launched its first product, the Trilogy platform for direct detection and quantitation of DNA, RNA, and protein molecules without prior amplification. The initial reagents available for use with Trilogy are for microRNA and siRNA analysis. Bio-IT World senior informatics editor Malorye A. Branca recently spoke with US Genomics CEO Stephen DeFalco about this intriguing product and its impact on US Genomics’ business.
Q: Why start with microRNAs and siRNA?
A: US Genomics was launched with a vision around personal genomics and DNA mapping. However, DNA mapping is still a year or two out, because there are major biological issues with working with these types of molecules. So, we will keep driving the DNA mapping element of that through our work on homeland security, but since this technology works for any molecule we decided to start with something we could accomplish more quickly.
The big promise of siRNA is to see how it is working. So this technology offers a core application to people who want to measure siRNA or microRNA activity and resulting impact. You can’t amplify these molecules, so our approach offers a major advantage. We are already seeing a lot of people who have run into a wall with Northern or Western blots. We tell them to move it over to our platform, and they’ll get 400-fold improvement in sensitivity.
Q: How does it work?
A: We can put tags on individual molecules, which then flow through a nanofluidic environment, where they are counted. Very state-of-the-art optics let us interrogate each molecule as it flows past.
Q: Now that Trilogy is launched, what’s the next hurdle?
A: Getting acceptance. PCR has its well-known bad points, but it is well characterized and well accepted. Now, our main goal is to get people to understand the value of single-molecule biology. We have 31 collaborations in house and plan to put out a number of machines over the rest of 2004. As we get more and more chemistries, of course, the platform will have greater utility. But right now, we’d like to see more leaders in the field talking about this tool.