Amgen Puts $66 Million Into Maker of Pocket-Sized DNA Sequencer

(Bloomberg) -- Amgen Inc. is buying a $66 million stake in Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd., whose small, portable DNA sequencer has made it a darling of U.K. genetics work.

Oxford Nanopore makes a range of genetic-sequencing technologies but it’s best known for the MinION, a pocket-sized sequencer that for $1,000 gives scientists the ability to study life essentially in real time -- and has sequenced genes in destinations as far-flung as space. Earlier this month, the company released the MinIT, a tiny data-analysis tool that makes the MinION more portable and powerful.

DNA sequencing and the huge amounts of data it can unlock has become an area of much interest for drugmakers. Not only can it help pinpoint the genetic causes of some diseases, it has also been used to identify mutations with positive effects, such as irregularities that cause people to have abnormally low levels of bad cholesterol.

“We continue to look closely at opportunities in the genetics space, particularly as they relate to drug discovery,” David Piacquad, senior vice president of business development at Amgen, said in a statement. “Genetics is an important part of who we are as a company and it plays a key role in what we are trying to accomplish for patients with serious illness.”

The investment in the closely held company is not Amgen’s first deal in the DNA data space. In 2012, the Thousand Oaks, California-based company spent $415 million to acquire Iceland’s deCODE Genetics, a pioneer in the realm of personal genomics. Amgen has made several smaller DNA investments since then.

The MinION works by pulling DNA through hundreds of nanoscopic pores and then measuring electrical signals produced by each letter of DNA. In March, Oxford Nanopore raised $140 million to support commercial expansion.

A central question for Oxford Nanopore has been the size of the market for its portable sequencers. The sequencing market is dominated by Illumina Inc., whose million-dollar machines can rapidly sequence huge amounts of genetic material.

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