PacBio picks up speed with first short-read sequencer shipments, plus a new acquisition

The work is never done for Pacific Biosciences. The DNA sequencing developer declared that it has begun shipping its first short-read hardware—while simultaneously announcing a new acquisition that aims to boost those capabilities in the future.

PacBio originally raised the curtain on its short-read benchtop system, Onso, in October 2022. Designed to compete in the DNA-decoding space dominated by Illumina’s machines, the instrument also aims to complement the company’s past portfolio of long-read analyzers, by allowing researchers to process samples with additional flexibility.

Built on technology PacBio acquired through its $800 million acquisition of Omniome, Onso was initially slated to ship in the first half of 2023. According to the company’s Aug. 2 announcement, the first installation is expected to be completed by the end this month, alongside the first shipments of the device’s consumables. Those deliveries will trigger a set of milestone payments—out of a potential total of $200 million in cash and stock—promised to Omniome back in 2021.

On the same day, PacBio disclosed it had inked the acquisition of Apton Biosystems, with the goal of developing an entirely new high-throughput, short-read sequencer capable of delivering billions of reads per flow cell. Currently Onso, with its $259,000 price tag, is designed to offer 400 million to 500 million DNA sequencing reads during a 48-hour cycle.

The deal includes about $85 million upfront in an all-stock transaction plus an additional $25 million should the Bay Area-based Apton’s technology—still in pre-commercial development—bring PacBio another $50 million in future sales.

The ultimate goal for PacBio is to be able to address each customer’s need across the spectrum of the DNA sequencing market: with long-read approaches being well suited for whole-genome research into complex diseases and short-read machines being sought after for help in monitoring cancer recurrence or helping clinicians select the right therapies based on genetic mutations.

“I am impressed with Apton's progress in developing a novel, high-throughput sequencing platform that has the potential to deliver very low-cost sequencing at tremendous scale,” PacBio President and CEO Christian Henry said in a statement. “By integrating our highly accurate [sequencing-by-binding] technology with Apton's advanced optics and image processing capabilities, PacBio expects to commercialize a high-throughput short-read platform faster than we had planned.”

Onso marks PacBio’s second major platform launch this year: The company began shipping its latest long-read Revio systems in March—starting with 32 of the $779,000 instruments in the first quarter, plus 45 in the second, to drive the company to record revenues.

For April, May and June, PacBio reported total sales of $47.6 million, for a 34% jump over the same quarter the year before—and a mark above Wall Street estimates—with the money split among $29.9 million from instrument placements, $13.7 million from consumables and $3.9 million from services.

The company’s gross profit, however, dropped 4% to $15.5 million, as quarterly operating expenses grew slightly to $88.7 million, up from last year’s $84.2 million. 

Still, PacBio increased its financial forecasts for the full-year of 2023, with revenue landing between $185 million to $190 million for about 45% growth, built on what Henry described on a call with investors as a “healthy backlog” for Revio.