JP Morgan News Round Up

January 12, 2017

January 12, 2017 | The JP Morgan Healthcare Conference was held this week in San Francisco, kicking off 2017 with news and deals and product announcements. Many presentations were webcast. Here are some of the highlights and news bits we’ve collected over the past three days. 

Sequencing Products

Illumina had a strong start on Monday with announcement of its new sequencing line: NovoSeq. But that wasn’t the only Illumina news. Company president and CEO Francisco deSouza said to expect a major Helix launch in mid-2017. Firefly, Illumina’s new low-cost sequencer, is on track to ship at the end of 2017, with a library prep box shipping in 2018.

Immediately before the event, GRAIL received indications of interest to invest approximately $1B for its Series B financing, primarily from undisclosed private and strategic investors. (See Matthew Herper’s analysis at Forbes; and a counterpoint from Elaine Schattner).

Pacific Bioscience announced new chemistry (version 2) and software (v4) for the Sequel System to improve the system’s ability to support important applications such as structural variant detection and targeted sequencing—including metagenomics, minor variant detection and isoform sequencing—by achieving mean read lengths of 10-18 kb.

QIAGEN announced a comprehensive range of enhancements for the GeneReader NGS System—in particular the launch of five new gene panels that will create a full menu for oncology applications—that are designed to significantly improve utility, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. QIAGEN plans to commercialize at least five new gene panels during the year, many of which are compatible with both FFPE tissue samples and non-invasive liquid biopsies.

This expansion plan builds on the success of the GeneRead QIAact Actionable Insights Tumor Panel, which was launched as the first expert-designed gene panel for use on the GeneReader NGS System and targets 12 clinically-actionable genes in the five most prevalent solid tumors. The expansion plans include two new gene panels for deep analysis of lung cancer samples, while commercialization of a gene panel for analysis of breast and ovarian cancers is set to begin soon in Europe and later this year in the U.S. An onco-hematology panel is also being prepared for launch during 2017, while additional gene panels are in development for seamless integration with the GeneReader NGS System.

Newly-minted CEO Sean George led the Invitae session at JP Morgan. “In the last six to nine months, I think there’s been a dramatic shift in the payer’s approach to genetic testing,” George said. “Genetics used to be something they didn’t understand. It was a little bit of a CPT coding game. It wasn’t a huge focus for them. But of late, it’s one of their fastest-growing line items. Getting a handle on what is going on in genetic testing is something they’re very interested in. They payer dynamic has shifted dramatically as they realize there are labs that are willing to… treat them as a client, treat them as a customer, treat them as a partner in delivering comprehensive, quality genetic care for their covered lives.”

Invitae sees itself as that partner. For the first six years of its existence, Invitae lost money on every test, George said. But that changed in Q4 of 2016. The company is projecting doubling the volume of billable tests in 2017, and is accelerating the Invitae Genome Network by acquiring AltaVoice, a scalable patient-centered data company.

Michael Pellini gave his last JP Morgan address on behalf of Foundation Medicine. “The current diagnostic testing landscape is an ugly mess… for physicians and their patients,” Pellini said. Foundation Medicine believes the solution is a universal diagnostic containing all the companion diagnostic tests approved for cancer care, information to guide immunotherapy decisions, details on tumor-mutation burden, and information on microsatellite instability—all of it presented in context to help physicians make decisions. Pellini hopes to advance such a test through the FDA and CMS review processes in 2017, launching the product at the end of this year.

Sequencing Partnerships

Illumina announced partnerships with IBM Watson, in which Watson Genomics will be integrated into BaseSpace and trained to interpret Illumina’s TruSight Tumor 170 solid tumor panel; and one with Philips integrating Illumina's sequencing systems for large-scale analysis of genetic variation and function with Philips' IntelliSpace Genomics clinical informatics platform.

10x Genomics announced a partnership with PerkinElmer to jointly offer automated next-generation sequencing (NGS) solutions. The 10x Genomics Chromium System features proprietary Linked-Read sequencing technology which only requires small fragments of DNA (approximately 1ng) to deliver long-range sequence information, perform haplotype phasing and reveal structural genomic variation, as well as other genomic content. When combined with PerkinElmer automated solutions, the 10x Genomics Chromium System can significantly increase the throughput of existing sequencing workflows, according to the press release.

AbbVie, Genomics Medicine Ireland, and WuXi NextCODE announced their plan to sequence 45,000 volunteer participants from across Ireland over 15 years to identify novel targets and advance the clinical development of better treatments for a range of serious diseases. The group will focus on AbbVie’s key therapeutic areas including oncology, neuroscience and immunology.


People Shifting

The first week of 2017 saw several changes at the tops of diagnostics companies.