NanoString Forges Closer Ties With Broad Institute to See What Genetic Tool Can Really Do

11/18/09Follow @xconomy

NanoString Technologies, the maker of a machine that lets scientists digitally analyze how genes are turned on or off in a tissue sample, just won a glowing endorsement from one of the biggest names in biology—Eric Lander of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

The Seattle-based company has nailed down a three-year research collaboration with the Cambridge, MA-based Broad Institute to look at how networks of hundreds of genes work in concert to form immune defenses against foreign invaders. Financial terms aren’t being disclosed, but NanoString has sold the Broad a couple discounted nCounter machines that normally retail at $235,000 apiece, and will provide proprietary reagent chemicals to operate them, according to acting CEO Wayne Burns. In return, NanoString gets certain intellectual property rights from the collaboration, advice on how to improve its tool, and some golden word of mouth.

NanoString, a private company founded in 2004 with technology from the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, has been building stronger ties to the Broad over the past year as people there have started using one of the first commercially available machines, Burns says. The mounting enthusiasm at the institute was instrumental in helping NanoString nail down a $30 million venture capital round in June. The round was led by Clarus Ventures, which has an office just a couple blocks from the Broad. Word has spread to the point that 15 researchers at the Broad are now involved in 20 separate collaborations to see whether the NanoString technology can yield biological insights that couldn’t realistically be attained with competing instruments, Burns says.

“NanoString offers the ability to look at hundreds of genetic markers across many samples at relatively low cost and with high sensitivity. They have developed exciting technology with potential applications to a wide range of scientific problems,” said Lander, the director of the Broad Institute, in a NanoString statement. “We look forward to working together to explore new ways of using of this technology.”

That kind of endorsement is sure to carry weight in the biomedical research community, and can’t hurt a fledging company trying to increase sales. “If you’re in the industry you know exactly who Eric Lander is, the reputation he has, as well as that of the Broad. We have the best of the best endorsing our technology,” Burns says.

For those who are new to the NanoString story, the idea is to allow researchers to look at a large number of genes, with digital precision, to see the extent to which they are turned on or off in a given sample. It’s the sort of technology that’s supposed to help researchers do … Next Page »

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