Agencourt Bioscience Corp. received $27.2 million in government funding as part of a federal genomics sequencing initiative.

More specifically, the National Human Genome Research Institute named Agencourt one of five centers to undertake large-scale sequencing projects related to priority organisms, defined by the government as having high biomedical interest. The Beverly, Mass.-based company is the only commercial entity among those selected by the institute, a unit of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., as part of its Large-Scale Sequencing Research Network.

Together, the collective group will work to create a publicly available resource of genome sequences for research into human biology and health. Agencourt, which will receive its funding in installments over the next three years, said it would add about 10 positions to its 60-plus-person staff to meet the project's demands.

"This fits very nicely because we already do a tremendous amount of DNA sequencing on a commercial basis, and this allows us to expand the operation and benefit from economies of scale," Paul McEwan, co-chief scientific officer at Agencourt, told BioWorld Today. He added that he believed Agencourt "fared favorably" in the selection process because of its automated and streamlined pipeline, along with a sample-tracking system. Together, those two elements "make us very competitive from an efficiency and cost standpoint," he said.

He said the privately held company, which in the past has done smaller subcontract work for the government, is funded primarily by angel investors and has been profitable since beginning operations. Agencourt's genomic services and nucleic acid purification products are used in commercial drug development, and its role in the NIH project centers around sequencing genomes of as yet-undetermined organisms.

Among the NIH's high-interest organisms are the chicken, dog, fruit fly, honeybee, humans, mouse, puffer fish, rats and a number of fungal genomes.

"I assume in the next weeks or months we will be assigned a genome off that list, which we'll sequence, assemble and do analysis on here at Agencourt," McEwan said.

He added that the company's Solid Phase Reversible Immobilization (SPRI) technology would play a key role in the project. Agencourt's purification products and services are based on the DNA purification technology, which is centered on paramagnetic particles. The company said SPRI was used to sequence more than one-third of the human genome.

Additional technology used in the project will assign bar codes to each sample as it arrives, allowing its automated tracking throughout the sequencing process.

Others in the sequencing network include the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston; the Eli & Edythe L. Broad Institute at MIT in Cambridge, Mass.; The Institute for Genomic Research of the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation Joint Technology Center in Rockville, Md.; and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.