April 11, 2018 by Dale Yuzuki
At the recent Association for Molecular Pathology conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, we had the opportunity to ask Dr. Gang Song, Chief Executive Officer of Pillar Biosciences to talk about the company’s SLIMamp NGS enrichment technology, the company’s recent publication and product launches, and their upcoming circulating tumor DNA (liquid biopsy) assay.
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Below is a transcription of this video.
Dale: Here we are at the Association for Molecular Pathology in Utah, talking with Dr. Gang Song the CEO of Pillar Biosciences. Gang, thank you for taking some time today to talk with me about Pillar Biosciences. What can you tell me about it?
Gang: Pillar Biosciences is a clinical NGS diagnostics company. We set out to solve the issues that every clinical NGS lab is facing.
Dale: What kind of issues?
Gang: I think there are at least three major issues. The first one is high assay failure rate and high repeat rate, due to the nature of the low-quality and low amount of clinical specimens. Second is a complicated workflow. NGS (assays) are very complicated. And third, is the cost. The cost is still very high.
Dale: Some of these tests can cost thousands of dollars, correct?
Gang: Yes, and insurance companies really do not want to pay that much.
Dale: How does Pillar then solve these problems?
Gang: We are an innovation-driven company; we first start building new technology. This is a new targeted sequencing technology called SLIMamp (Stem-Loop Inhibition Mediated amplification). Using this technology, the overlapping amplicon – the short overlapping region – cannot be amplified very efficiently. Typically, this short amplicon if amplified efficiently then will dominate the reaction.
Dale: You then get a whole tube of ‘junk’.
Gang: Yes. And secondly we put hundreds, even thousands of oligo(nucleotides) into one oligo pool, then any two molecules can interact with each other.
Dale: Then how does then SLIMamp solve this problem?
Gang: Through our SLIMamp (technology), these short amplicons are inhibited, as well as the short primer-dimers are inhibited.
Dale: So you are able to amplify what you want, and not what you don’t want.
Gang: Yes, you are able to amplify only what you want.
Dale: And how does this solve the workflow problem?
Gang: You can simply put hundreds or thousands of oligo(nucleotides) into one single pool, so this is a single-tube workflow. No splitting, no risk of sample-swapping, and this workflow can be easily automated on a liquid handler like a Tecan.
Dale: As far as the cost goes, how do you tackle that?
Gang: Regarding the cost, as we put everything into one tube, the cost of reagent savings is already there.
Gang: Half, or some companies’ BRCA panel you need to split oligos into three pools, or four pools. Let’s just say two pools, then that is half. That is reagents. Then second, you add the technician time, it is significantly reduced.
Dale: Is that half as well?
Gang: Yes, if you pipette twice, then you just pipette once. That is half. Also, the beauty of this technology is that it can be fully automated, reducing tech time by… 80%? 90%?
Dale: Do you have any exciting announcements here (at Association for Molecular Pathology Annual Meeting 2017)?
Gang: A few days before this meeting Illumina Inc. and Pillar announced an IVD partnership to utilize SLIMamp technology in the MiSeqDx, and we will submit panels to the FDA starting next year.
Dale: Well, that’s exciting! I saw on your website a note about Liquid Biopsy; what is that about?
Gang: We actually have built quite a few liquid biopsy panels; the first one is a lung cancer panel. We will not formally launch this panel at this AMP (conference), because we want to complete all the third-party validation studies. What I always believe, is that if a third-party thinks our assay is good, then it’s really good. We are a products-based company, not a service-based company, not a ‘black box’.
Dale: So the development cycle takes a lot of work…
Gang: Yes it takes longer. The first three products that are launching at this AMP, the first validation started two years ago, and the first product the BRCA panel has been tested by several clinical laboratories both in the US and China. So every panel we use this approach. Only (after) several third parties think our products agree, then we release it. We actually have already accumulated a lot of liquid biopsy data.
Dale: That’s great – thank you very much for joining me today.
Publication: “Amplification of overlapping DNA amplicons in a single-tube multiplex PCR for targeted next-generation sequencing of BRCA1 and BRCA2.”, Schenk D, Song G, Ke Y, Wang Z. PLoS One. 2017 Jul 12;12(7):e0181062. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181062.