National Editor

Three years after CuraGen Corp. used $32.5 million in a private financing to form 454 Life Sciences, the majority-owned subsidiary said it used its new method to sequence the entire adenovirus in less than one day - and said the technology can be used just as efficiently on larger genomes.

The adenovirus sequence has been submitted to the National Institutes of Health's genetic sequence database, GenBank.

To sequence the adenovirus' 30,000 base pairs, the company used just one preparation (in contrast to the hundreds required by traditional sequencing) and gained more than 99 percent coverage.

Richard Begley, president and CEO of Branford, Conn.-based 454, said he expects the system - which will take up about one full office worth of space and be simple enough for "any nurse in any hospital" to use - to enter the market in the second quarter of 2004 and said several options likely will be available to customers.

"Part of the deal with us, and I didn't want to say this on the teleconference, is that we are trying to look at models from consumer markets, not just biotech markets," he told BioWorld Today.

Customers may be able to buy the system, lease it or lease with an option to buy, depending on the individual buyer's need - a "have it your way" approach, he said.

The system might be deployed in areas well beyond drug development, Begley said. Hospital personnel might use it to profile new infective bugs, agricultural workers could find out more about fungi that threaten crops and environmental cleanup crews could develop new bacteria to handle oil spills.

It's due to become portable and Internet-friendly, too.

"I have no doubt the day will come when we'll be able to do sequencing in a van, on site," Begley said. "What if you could put these in monitoring locations, and then sequence strains [of influenza, for example], and download that sequence to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], which could rebroadcast it out all over the world? That is a real-world case we've been asked to look at."

Applications in biological defense are obvious, he added. Prices of the unit, kits and consumables have yet to be established.

"That is a big dilemma," Begley said. "I'm not going to skirt the issue, but we will be doing a formal pricing program in the next quarter. If you have an instrument that's 10 to 100 times faster than a conventional instrument, there is no way you can price it 10 to 100 times as high. At the same time, it would be a little bit silly to charge the identical price. We have to figure out a sensible balancing act."

As the company talked with prospective customers, yet another way the system might be used came up. One group didn't want to install the unit, but wanted 454 to host and run it.

"It's equivalent to a web-hosting business," Begley said. "It was a pleasant surprise. That could work."

Begley said that 454, since it was established, has "always been about whole-genome sequencing," but researchers "learned a lot more" as time went on about the importance of miniaturization, simplicity and ease of use. (See BioWorld Today, June 7, 2000.)

"Our thinking has evolved," he said, and so will the sequencing system, starting first with efforts on viruses and bacteria.

CuraGen's stock (NASDAQ:CRGN) closed Thursday at $4.42, up 25 cents.