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Efforts To Sequence the Coronavirus Continue As New Gene Sequencer Is Launched in Asia

 Efforts To Sequence the Coronavirus Continue As New Gene Sequencer Is Launched in Asia content piece image
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The Wuhan Coronavirus continues to spread throughout China and other parts of the globe. In efforts to understand more about the virus, it's different strains and how it spreads, scientists are turning to genetic sequencing. By studying the different strains and genetic mutations found in individuals that are infected by the Coronavirus, it is hoped that a containment solution could potentially be developed.

GenapSys Inc. have announced today that they will be bolstering these efforts by launching their gene sequencer in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, including Korea, Singapore, Japan and China. The company has already signed more than 20 distributorships across the virus-affected APAC region, with five distributorships in China.

Technology Networks
spoke with Hesaam Esfandyarpour, founder of GenapSys, to learn more about the sequencer which is "100x smaller and less expensive than legacy high-throughput sequencers" and how it can be applied to study the Coronavirus.

Molly Campbell (MC): The GenapSys gene sequencer utilizes the first ever purely electrical sequencing chip. Please can you tell us more about this? How has the sequencer been developed to be compact, scalable and affordable?

Hesaam Esfandyarpour (HE): 
Current gene sequencers primarily use the same technology that was first pioneered in the 1990s. This includes using microscopes, lasers, robots, and tubes to view and analyze the DNA chains optically. These systems are large, expensive, and challenging to maintain, requiring tens of thousands of dollars' worth of consumables and reagents. Alternatively, GenapSys developed the world’s first highly accurate, direct electronic sequencing technology without many of these hindrances.

Unlike legacy optical-based technologies that use surrogate analysis methods, the GenapSys Sequencer is designed around its proprietary semiconductor-based, direct electronic sequencing method that builds on decades and billions of dollars of prior investment into semiconductors. The sequencer leverages a proprietary electrical microfluidic sequencing chip with a scalable number of detectors, allowing for applications ranging from targeted sequencing of specific amplicons to genome-scale sequencing data collection. The proprietary semiconductor chip-based detection modality enables the system to be compact, scalable, and affordable, empowering the democratization of access to next-generation sequencing (NGS).

In creating a sequencer that is radically miniaturized into the footprint of an iPad and costs $9,995 - 100x less than the price of the current high throughput system - GenapSys is opening up access to the insights afforded by sequencing data, effectively ushering in a new era of genomics. By making a gene sequencer the size and cost of a high-end computer, GenapSys hopes to expand access to this knowledge and enable more significant innovation across a variety of fields. 

MC: Was the launch of the gene sequencer in the APAC region planned prior to the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak? Or is it in response to the outbreak?

HE: Yes, our planned roll out to the APAC region, as well as other parts of the world, has been in the works for quite some time. The outbreak of the Coronavirus and subsequent contact from the Chinese Center for Disease (CDC) looking for assistance in fighting the outbreak was coincidental but has accelerated our decision to enter these markets.  

MC: What are your aims for launching in the APAC region?

Our aim is the same, regardless of region: To provide a gene sequencer that is radically miniaturized. The implication of accessible and affordable sequencing extends beyond infectious diseases to applications in cancer research, food science, personalized medicine, forensics and other key scientific and medical fields. Speaking specifically to the issues around the Coronavirus, we believe the characteristics of our gene sequencing units - portability, size, speed and accuracy - make it uniquely suited to help battle this virus.

MC: How can genomics enhance our understanding of the Coronavirus and work towards therapies/ containment strategies?

The GenapSys gene sequencer can help in two distinct ways. First, through the screening of patients to detect the disease. Because the cost of our units significantly reduces the barrier to entry, it creates a distributed solution that eliminates cross-contamination and greatly increases the number of organizations that can work on solutions in parallel.

Additionally, the units provide benefit in the research and development of a vaccine, allowing researchers to look at the options they have for treatment and monitor for effectiveness. Again, the comparatively low cost and unparalleled portability makes our gene sequencer uniquely suited for this kind of crisis response. Our device is small enough to fit in the back of a truck or be deployed at hospitals, airports, and public transportation hubs for quick results on virus samples.

MC: What have genomic studies told us about the Coronavirus so far?

Recent reports in the media highlight the critical role genomic study is playing in the fight against the Coronavirus, identifying the similarity of the genome structure to that of the SARS virus. Just a few years ago this sort of insight would not have been possible.

MC: Are you currently working in partnership with any health agencies or researchers on the Wuhan Coronavirus? If so, are you able to tell us about this work at all?

We’re currently in discussion with the Chinese CDC on the logistics of our team sending sequencers to the health agency. The timeline isn’t solidified, but our aim is to support them as soon as possible. 

We have already signed more than 20 distributorships across the virus-affected APAC region with five in China. GenapSys is also working very closely with Dr. Shi Yongyong, a researcher at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the Mayo Clinic in the US. GenapSys has a strong relationship with Dr. Shi.

Since the company is still finalizing its supply chain, Dr. Shi is planning on picking up his sequencer here in the US where it is commercially available very shortly.

In parallel with our rollout in the APAC region, GenapSys is actively looking to partner with local health agencies and researchers to arm researchers with access to the insight afforded by sequencing. With its highly accurate, portable, and affordable sequencing technology, we aim to help support the control and limit the spread of current and future outbreaks.

Hesaam Esfandyarpour, founder of GenapSys, was speaking to Molly Campbell, Science Writer, Technology Networks.