The company hopes that combining these technologies will allow it to compete in the NGS sample prep space with larger commercial manufacturers, particularly in applied and research markets.

Based in Beverly, Massachusetts, Quantabio was founded in 2001 by Ayoub Rashtchian and other former employees of Life Technologies who had been among the first to bring cDNA synthesis and qPCR chemistries to market. When Life Tech merged with Invitrogen in 2001, this group decided not to migrate to the West Coast, but rather start its own company, according to Heather Meehan, vice president of commercial operations at the firm.

Initially, Quantabio developed new qPCR technologies as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), but in 2007 the company embarked on a new kind of commercial initiative, creating a true retail brand under that Quanta Biosciences label, Meehan said.

This brand was exclusively distributed for a number of years by VWR and was later rebranded to Quantabio. The company was purchased by Qiagen in 2011, but it remains a distinct and unique brand entity with its own go-to-market strategy and distribution network, Meehan said.

The firm's reagents consist of specialized enzymes and chemistries, and it has expertise in reagents designed to be resistant to PCR inhibitors.

Quantabio branched into sample prep solutions tailored specifically to sequencing applications about two years ago. Its sequencing products, called sparQ, have been on the market for about a year and a half, but the firm is also continually adding to them, Meehan said.

"We started out with HiFi for amplification and library prep, both with and without enzymatic fragmentation [and] last November we launched our sparQ PureMag bead line, which are beads for purification and size selection within the DNA NGS workflow," Meehan said.  

The firm plans to launch a new product, called the FastQuant kit, in the coming weeks for quantitative PCR-based library quantification in the NGS workflow. The kit uses the "gold standard" method of qPCR to quantify DNA prior to adding sample to a flow cell, but the Q instrument speeds up the overall turnaround time.

Designing for the Q

By pairing its fast chemistries and Q instrument Quantabio was able to drop the processing time for DNA quantification to about 35 minutes from anywhere between 90 minutes to two hours, depending on how people are handling their samples, Meehan said. This results in streamlining of the whole NGS workflow and gets customers onto the flow cell faster, she said.

The Q is made under an OEM agreement with Bio Molecular Systems (BMS), an Australian instrument manufacturer.

Quantabio opted for an OEM thermal cycler that it can pair with its reagents, in essence to fast-track bringing an instrument to its customers, rather than tackling instrument development in house, Meehan said.

The instrument uses a contactless magnetic induction heating method and a fan for forced-air cooling in order to cycle samples, with the ability to do 35-cycle PCR in less than 25 minutes.

Meehan noted that besides the speed, the instrument also has fixed optics, so there are no moving parts and no need for calibration. The company offers a two-year full-replacement warranty, which Meehan said is because the instrument is "basically indestructible."

The Q is considered "plug-and-play," and is small, about a 15-cm cube weighing about two kg. "It's the kind of instrument that you can use on your bench, and then you can put away if you want to," Meehan said, noting that this flexibility is also true for applied markets customers who need to bring the instrument out in the field.

Many Quantabio customers are in the ag-bio, environmental, and food testing spaces, but the company also partners with end users in public health, facilitating infectious disease testing and newborn screening, although Meehan emphasized the products are research-use only, so when used in a clinical setting the onus is on the lab to validate them.

The Q instrument also has tight between-run reproducibility so that users can pool up to 10 runs into a single data set using the software and can also choose to daisy chain multiple instruments together to increase the throughput.

Quantabio sells the Q for between $12,000 and $15,000, depending on whether a customer wants the 2- or 4-channel model or high-resolution melt capabilities. The instrument also uses dedicated consumables consisting of tube strips. With these, the instrument can load up to 48 samples, but can run as few as one, and "that allows for flexibility in processing that is a unique attribute," Meehan said.

Quantabio had been intrigued by the instrument, which BMS sells as the MIC, for some time. "We were definitely attracted to this particular instrument from the beginning, since it launched. It has such unique attributes in size, portability, and Bluetooth capability," she said.

By pairing the OEMed BMS instrument with Quantabio's quantitative PCR chemistries, "we knew that we would create a unique and innovative solution in the market," Meehan said. "Partnering those two would kind of give a one-two punch to the market in terms of creating better, faster, stronger solutions, specifically for the qPCR workflow, and now in expansion in our NGS offering in our sparQ workflow as well," she said.

BMS was founded by senior leadership of Corbett Life Sciences, the originator of the Rotor-gene thermal cycler, after that company was acquired by Qiagen in 2008. The MIC is sold through distributors globally, as well as directly by BMS in the UK. It also offers its instrument as an OEM, according to John Corbett, Jr., CEO of BMS. BMS has branded the MIC for Co-Diagnostics as well, Corbett said.

The MIC had also been distributed in the US by Meridian subsidiary BioLine, but representatives at Meridian confirmed that the company has decided not to distribute the MIC anymore in order to focus on other aspects of its business.

Meehan said the strategy to provide the instrument to its customers may set the company apart from some stiff competition in the life science reagents market, including from companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific, Bio-Rad, Qiagen, Promega, and New England Biolabs. "Any of the big players you can think of, generally they have solutions for these types of applications," Meehan said.

Now, Quantabio is looking to continue to expand its sparQ offering, moving into the RNA sequencing space. It is also expanding into cold-chain storage solutions and lyophilized capabilities, which may further enhance the offering for field-based use.

"We're going to continue to develop specifically for the instrument, so taking existing technologies and essentially pushing them until they break on that instrument, because it is so fast," Meehan said. The firm will be launching these collective solutions as it continues to develop them, she said.

by Madeleine Johnson

Read the press release on genomeweb.com