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Life Technologies continues with its expansion of the Ion portfolio with the recent launch of Ion AmpliSeq Custom Panel. The Ion AmpliSeq technology helps researchers to study samples that even contain minute traces of DNA, all in a single day.

In October 2011, Life Technologies launched Ion AmpliSeq Cancer Panel to help scientists to sequence dozens of genes in cancer research samples using a simple workflow. In addition to confirmation of mutations within one day, the system also makes DNA extraction possible from fixed, frozen or fresh tissue. The Cancer Panel sequences 46 cancer-related genes for over 700 known cancer mutations.  

The Ion franchise was inducted into Life Technologies’ portfolio with the acquisition of Ion Torrent, a DNA sequencing company, in October 2010. For the past few quarters, the company has been recording robust growth from its Ion personal genome machine (“PGM”) that was launched in December 2010, taking the total number of system placements to 700 in 2011.

Life Technologies is satisfied with the progress made so far with Ion Torrent technologies and expects the growth momentum to continue. This will be supported by more PGM placements and the scheduled launch of the Ion Proton Benchtop sequencer.

The company is already taking orders for Proton Benchtop, which is expected to hit the US market in mid-2012. Based on next generation semiconductor technology, the device will be able to sequence the entire human genome in one day for $1,000.

Genome sequencing, currently in vogue, uses optical based technologies that may take weeks to deliver results and is also dearer at $5,000−$10,000. In addition, the high cost of the instrument ($500,000−$750,000) has been a deterrent to its expansion in research labs. Over the recent past, focus has been on reducing the cost of sequencing a gene so that this specialized know-how can benefit the patient community at large.

The DNA sequencing market is likely to get more competitive as San Diego-based Illumina (ILMN - Analyst Report) is also looking at launching its HiSeq 2500 in the second half of 2012.

We have a Neutral recommendation on Life Technologies. The stock retains a Zacks #3 Rank (Hold) in the short term.

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