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Oxford Nanopore to Let Customers Test Handheld Sequencer

(Updates with valuation estimate in seventh paragraph.)

By Andrea Gerlin

Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd., the U.K. company developing portable gene sequencers, will begin providing its MinION handheld device to some customers to test, a sign it’s taking steps toward selling the instrument.

Scientists will be able to request the gene sequencer starting in late November in exchange for assessing the device and giving feedback on quality and performance, the Oxford, England-based company said today in a statement on its website. The users will pay a $1,000 deposit, to be refunded after the equipment is returned, and shipping costs.

“This is a substantial but initially controlled program designed to give life-science researchers access to nanopore sequencing technology at no risk and minimal cost,” the company said. The devices are used to study the order of building blocks in an organism’s DNA, which provides information about genetic makeup that is useful in establishing identity, understanding disease processes and finding treatments.

Oxford Nanopore will show the MinION to potential customers at the American Society of Human Genetics meeting in Boston this week. The company had planned to begin selling the device by the end of 2012 and was delayed by difficulties with the sensor. The sensor chip has been redesigned and the device’s case reduced to about half the size of a smartphone, Chief Executive Officer Gordon Sanghera said.

Investor Gains

Shares of IP Group Plc, an early investor in Oxford Nanopore and the holder of a 19.6 percent stake, advanced the most in intraday trading since Feb. 20, 2012. The stock rose 5.2 percent to 149 pence at the close of trading in London, the highest price since July 30.

Closely held Oxford Nanopore is developing handheld and desktop devices that use a novel technique known as strand sequencing, in which an entire string of DNA is guided by an enzyme and passes intact through a hole in a cell membrane one-billionth of a meter wide.

Oxford Nanopore didn’t say when it would begin selling the MinION. It will give scientists who participate in the testing program priority to participate in eventual testing of its GridION desktop gene sequencer. Charles Weston, an analyst at Numis Securities, estimates Oxford Nanopore’s value at about $2 billion, according to a note he wrote to investors today.

The company raised 40 million pounds ($65 million) this month from new and existing shareholders, bringing the total invested to 145 million pounds. Investors include IP Group, Illumina Inc., Invesco Perpetual, Lansdowne Partners and Odey Asset Management. Illumina and Life Technologies Corp., both based in California, are among companies developing gene sequencers.

The company was spun out of Oxford University in 2005 with technology initially based on research by Hagan Bayley, a professor of chemical biology.

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