Chinese upstart takes aim at Illumina with homegrown DNA sequencer

Having seen off Roche's ($RHHBY) 454 Life Sciences and established a big lead over its remaining rivals, Illumina ($ILMN) now faces a new challenger for the DNA sequencing market. And the Chinese company behind the technology thinks it can undercut Illumina on the cost of manufacturing and running the sequencer.

The Beijing Institute of Genomics (BIG) is developing the sequencer, BIGIS-4, with its commercial partner Zixin Pharmaceutical Industrial, Chemistry World reports. If BIG is to make inroads into the sequencing market, it must find an edge over Illumina. And, like many Chinese organizations before it, BIG has hit upon one area in which it has an immediate advantage: cost. BIG claims it can produce the sequencers for 30% less than Illumina and foresees running costs coming in 20% lower.

Yet cost advantages are unlikely to lead to market share gains unless the product is competitive, too. BIGIS-4 reportedly offers longer read lengths than its rivals--making it easier to construct a genome from fragments--but lags behind Illumina in terms of throughput. BIG still thinks it can find a niche, though. "The Chinese and world sequencing markets are growing quickly, and different technology lines have diverse demands," BIG scientist Yu Jun said.

Establishing a foothold in the Chinese market would be a good start. BGI--a separate organization from BIG--runs a huge sequencing operation in the country, and Chinese CRO WuXi ($WX) has also boosted its presence in the sector by acquiring a HiSeq X Ten from Illumina. Currently, Chinese sequencing shops rely on imported technology, a situation BIG hopes to change. The organization has handed out 20 of its sequencers for a 6-month trial, after which it plans to enter mass production.

- read Chemistry World's feature