UK biotech group raises £100m to sell DNA-reading tools in Asia

Oxford Nanopore announces new funding from Woodford Investment and HK-based investor

Oxford Nanopore, one of Britain’s fastest growing private technology companies, has raised £100m in new funding to extend its range of portable DNA reading machines. The private share placement brings the total raised so far to £351m.

The funding round announced on Monday morning is led by GT Healthcare, an investment partnership based in Hong Kong and focusing on Asia, which is a new investor in Oxford Nanopore.

Existing UK-based shareholders, including Woodford Investment Management and IP Group, also participated. Gordon Sanghera, chief executive of Oxford Nanopore, said the company would be “using these funds to expand our commercial operations across a range of territories, including Asia”.

The quoted IP Group committed a further £14m to Oxford Nanopore in this round. It will have a stake of 19.7 per cent worth £246.3m, which implies a total value for Oxford Nanopore of £1.25bn.

The company, founded in 2005 as an Oxford university spinout, has pioneered the development of portable and inexpensive gene-reading machines. It aims to challenge the market leader, Illumina, and other DNA sequencing companies, which produce more powerful but much larger and more expensive kits.

Oxford Nanopore’s flagship product, the $1,000 Minion, is the size of a mobile phone and connects to the USB socket of a portable computer. Since its launch last year, Minion has been popular with scientists using it to read the genomes of pathogens in the field, including Ebola in Africa.

Last week, researchers at Oxford university’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics said that, for the first time, they had used the Minion to read the 3bn biochemical “letters” of the human genome, following an upgrade to the technology.

An even smaller DNA sequencer, called SmidgIon and scheduled for launch late next year, will connect directly to a mobile phone. It could be used by patients at home to carry out DNA tests and send their results to doctors.

Dr Sanghera said the company’s goal was to make possible “the analysis of any living thing, by anyone, anywhere”. His aim is to build an independent UK technology group. An IPO is not on the agenda in the short term, he told the FT, but he hopes that Oxford Nanopore will eventually be listed on the London market.

It uses a technology based on nanopores, which are microscopic holes within protein molecules. As a strand of DNA passes through an electrically changed nanopore, each of the four “letters” of DNA produces a distinct change in current, which makes it possible to deduce the genetic sequence.

by: Clive Cookson