New Funds for ONT, Self-Sequencing Challenge from Clive Brown

December 13, 2016

Oxford Nanopore nets another $126 million investment, with a focus on Asia. Clive Brown tweets his own sequencing, calls for an era of home sequencing.

By Bio-IT World Staff

December 13, 2016 | Fresh off a community meeting in New York, Oxford Nanopore Technologies yesterday announced $126 million in new funding through a private placement of ordinary shares (i.e. nothing made available to the public). The investment round was led by new investor GT Healthcare, a pan-Asian fund with special reach in China, and existing investor Woodford Investment Management on behalf of its clients.  Other new and existing investors including IP Group plc also participated in the round, the company said. This transaction brings the total funds raised by the company to more than $445 million.

“We will be using these funds to expand our commercial operations across a range of territories, including in Asia,” said Gordon Sanghera, CEO of Oxford Nanopore in a statement. “The active community of scientists using the MinION has shown that there are myriad possibilities for real time, scalable DNA sequencing with nanopore devices.  We are looking forward to accelerating the development and adoption of those applications, towards our goal of enabling the analysis of any living thing, by anyone, anywhere.”

When announcing the funding, the company explained that Oxford Nanopore will use the new funds to “add resources to production and sales & marketing for its novel products”, which include MinION (a portable DNA sequencer), PromethION (a high-throughput, on-demand sequencer) and VolTRAX (an automated sample/library preparation device). ONT also plans to continue development of its mobile-phone compatible SmidgION sequencer. (Oxford Nanopore gave updates on all of its products including MinION, PromethION, SmidgION and VolTRAX last September.)

Asia will be the focus of at least some of new funds. Oxford Nanopore established commercial operations in Japan earlier this year, and GT Healthcare’s reach into China is sure to be significant. “We are confident that GT Healthcare and Oxford Nanopore will work very well collectively to accelerate our expansion in new markets, particularly the Greater China markets,” said Alan Au, Founder and Managing Partner of GT Healthcare Capital Partners in the funding announcement.

But Oxford Nanopore isn’t sharing specifics just yet. The company hasn’t released details of its existing manufacturing process, other than to say the pipeline is “a complex supply chain with a large proportion happening in the UK.” A company spokesperson wouldn’t say whether Asian production facilities or a sales and marketing hub are planned.

Regardless, it wouldn’t be Oxford Nanopore’s first foray into Asia. Users from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, and Australia have presented at past Oxford Nanopore events.

But there are even larger untapped audiences in Asia, the company believes. “If you think about countries that have a huge pent-up demand for sequencing technologies across a large number of labs or other potential users (rather than a small number with large capital funds)—there is a chance here to ‘leapfrog’,” said an Oxford Nanopore representative. The company is counting on reaching large swaths of users who haven’t been able to sequence before—hoping they’ll “jump” straight to ONT technology, skipping earlier generations of sequencing infrastructure and methods.

The Oxford Nanopore devices and products are well-suited to uses “in the field”, and that flexibility could reach new sections of the market. Jane Carlton, Director, Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at New York University, has used the MinION to sequence Plasmodium in the field; her goal is to provide a method for real-time field-based malaria parasite detection. Other members of the Oxford Nanopore early access programs have resulted using the devices to track fungal outbreaks, trace microbial communities, and track and control infectious diseases.


But the platforms aren’t only for sequencing fungi and microbes. ONT Chief Technology Officer Clive Brown live-tweeted his own sequencing on a MinION device starting in mid-November. Aside from the phlebotomist’s help—he didn’t draw his own blood—the process was all DIY. Brown shared the “Cliveome” data—FastQ and Fast5 files—yesterday on Github. “So far as I am aware this is the first full coverage Human Genome sequenced by the individual who provided the input sample (ONT-HG1). This may prove significant in future,” he writes.

Brown believes the long read technology of ONT will offer significant improvement to current sequencing methods, but acknowledges that his ONT-generated genome is a work in progress. “I am not going to pretend the genome here is fully finished or complete. But, I do think it is of comparable completeness to other published personal genomes.” The genome was sequenced from white blood cells and without PCR. Brown believes he’s achieved an average ~50X coverage. He will share a draft consensus assembly “when ready.”

“Part of my motivation for sequencing myself and making the data public, under asserted rights, is to get the ball rolling on a new self-sequencing model,” Brown writes in the data introduction. “In the near future you will be able to take spittle, say, at home and sequence yourself on a regular basis. Data can be stored, analysed and tracked online under your control. If you also believe in this, I enjoin you to sequence yourselves at home and share your data (or not) under suitable rights of your choosing.”