Oxford Nanopore readying for user tests of handheld sequencing device

The sequencing world congregated in Boston last week for the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG). At the show, Oxford Nanopore gave attendees a look at the latest iteration of its handheld MinION sequencer and revealed when and how researchers can finally get their hands on the device.

Oxford Nanopore had planned to begin selling MinION by the end of 2012, but difficulties with the sensor pushed back the date. At ASHG, the University of Oxford-spinout showed off its redesigned sensor and new case, which is now roughly half the size of a smartphone. From November, researchers can apply to use the instrument as part of an early-access program, which will send devices to an undisclosed but "substantial" number of labs. Oxford Nanopore is particularly interested in sending devices to labs that want to install multiple MinIONs for use on tasks where long reads, simple workflows, low costs and real-time analysis are beneficial.

Participants in the early-access program will pay a $1,000 deposit--which they will get back when they return the equipment--plus shipping costs, and they are asked to provide feedback on their experience with MinION. In return, Oxford Nanopore will send out the sequencing USB device, enough flow cells for "frequent usage" and software. Users can buy additional flow cells for $999 a pop. Oxford Nanopore will initially restrict users to working with test samples, but after showing they can use the device, labs will be free to run their own projects and publish the data.

Wells Fargo analyst Tim Evans was underwhelmed by the news. Evans noted the lack of performance data and questioned whether the device will be disposable, as initially planned. Also, with registration for the MinION early-access program not due to open until November, the oft-delayed device is still months, maybe years, away from making an impact. "It will likely be early 2014 before even the early access recipients receive a product and significantly longer before the MinION is available to a broader customer base. MinION will not be a near-term threat to Illumina's dominance and will instead be a niche application," Evans wrote. Bloomberg quotes an analyst as predicting the final price of the instrument will be $1,000.

- read Bloomberg's article
- check out GenomeWeb's take (reg. req.)