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Shifting from manual to automatic
February 2013
by Kelsey Kaustinen  |  Email the author


MATSUDO, Japan—In pursuit of streamlining sample prep workflows, Roche and Precision System Science Co. Ltd. (PSS) have signed an exclusive agreement for the development and manufacture of a fully automated emulsion PCR instrument for Roche's portfolio of next-generation sequencing platforms. The instrument will support Roche's GS Junior and GS FLX+ systems in addition to its next-generation sequencing platform currently in development. No details were disclosed as to the financial terms of the deal.  
"This partnership aims to address one of the key needs of sequencing customers. The automated solution will not only improve the efficiency of laboratory workflows, but also increase the reproducibility of results by eliminating manual workload," said Dan Zabrowski, head of Roche Applied Science, in a press release. "This development program has made great progress over the last year, and we are looking forward to working with PSS because they offer outstanding expertise and have a strong track record in developing fully automated solutions."  
According to Thomas Schinecker, head of Roche Sequencing Solutions, this agreement builds on a "long-term reciprocal relationship" between the two companies, who began collaborating on automated DNA extraction 15 years ago. Roche and PSS successfully developed and marketed nucleic acid purification products as a result of that agreement. In addition, Schinecker notes, "PSS has developed Roche's MagNA Pure LC 2.0 System and MagNA Pure Compact System, which are flexible nucleic acid isolation and purification platforms that utilize the PSS proven 'Magtration technology.'"  
"PSS has been very instrumental in establishing themselves as experts in a niche market of new automation system concepts," says Schinecker. "PSS manufactures systems that automate sample preparation process before gene, protein or immunological analysis—such as fully automated DNA extractor, mainly based on the PSS' patented 'Magtration technology'—and it supplies those systems/instruments to worldwide markets. In addition, PSS also produces the reagents and the plastic consumables used in these automated systems."  
At present, manual upfront preparation of genomic samples is time-consuming and complicated, but the new instrument will serve to automate the entire emulsion PCR process. By streamlining the workflow, the hands-on time required will drop from several hours to only a few minutes.
Hideki Tanaka, general manager of Investor Relations and the President's Office at PSS, notes that it is important that PCR and next-generation sequencing continue to improve, as the technologies contribute "very much for early drug discovery or tailor-made diagnostic in the gene-related field by improving the quality and quantity for sequencing." Tanaka says the system improvement is expected to have particular impact in areas such as pharmacogenomics study or companion diagnostics for cancer.
In addition to the instrument itself, PSS will also be developing and manufacturing the accompanying consumables, vessels and tips. The product will enable communication with a laboratory network or LIMS "to download sample input data directly into the Automation Instrument and upload subsequent run information," says Schinecker, and will have features such as a touch screen, integrated PC, solid/liquid waste management system and RFID readers for identification of reagents and consumables. Roche will oversee the development process and provide PSS with feedback.
The instrument, says Schinecker, will fully automate the entirety of the emulsion PCR process, including emulsion generation, amplification, emulsion breaking, bead enrichment and "the annealing of the sequencing primers on a PSS-developed liquid-handling robot." By eliminating the manual workload, reproducibility of results will increase as the chance for human error or variation decreases.
"To obtain ready-to-sequence DNA beads with copies of clonally amplified DNA, users will only have to place reagents such as capture beads and primers along with the prepared DNA library and select the desired platform," he explains.
"We are delighted that PSS and Roche are expanding their long-standing relationship in automated DNA extraction to the challenging field of DNA sequencing," Hideji Tajima, president of PSS, said in a statement. "Preparing samples for sequencing is a complex, high-skill process that continues to hamper broader use of the technology. We believe that together, PSS and Roche will be able to develop an automated instrument that helps overcome this obstacle and promote greater use of advanced sequencing systems."
Code: E021310



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