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Researchers at the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) have developed an innovative sequencing method that holds significant potential for research and medicine, as reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature Methods. The unique sequencing kit is now being marketed around the world by biotech company Lexogen, which like IMBA is based at the Vienna BioCenter life science cluster. This proximity and the fruitful synergies between research and biotechnology at the site enabled the quickest possible integration of basic knowledge into the product development process.
“No value added can be generated without basic research,” said IMBA Scientific Director Josef Penninger. Basic research is driven by curiosity; it questions the ideas behind common theories and explores new scientific territory. Ideally, this gives rise to specific applications that are valuable to society and can also be utilised commercially. A good example of such a biotech success story is SLAMseq, a method developed by IMBA which allows researchers to identify when certain genes are active and for how long. The revolutionary sequencing tool is now being sold all over the world by Vienna-based Lexogen in the form of a laboratory kit, which will primarily be used in biotech research and in the pharmaceutical industry, for instance to test new drugs.
New leading-edge technology made in Vienna
Initial sequencing of the human genome took ten years and cost around USD 3 billion. Nevertheless, this milestone revolutionised biomedical research. Current methods are significantly faster and cheaper, and they also deliver an additional level of information. Known as next-generation sequencing, this technology does not decode the gene itself, but its signature. Lexogen already markets a number of products which enable researchers and pharmaceutical companies to rapidly analyse millions and even billions of sequences. SLAMseq is the latest innovative product developed in Vienna to come onto the market. The technology opens up new possibilities for medical screening and testing medication on live cells, and also has enormous potential to spark further advances in medicine. RNA biology, a flourishing research field at IMBA, laid the scientific foundations for SLAMseq. What sets the new method apart is that it enables the precise functions of genes in a live cell to be measured and recorded over a given period. “Previously, we were only able to take a snapshot of these processes. But thanks to our new technology, we are finally able to produce a kind of film, which in turn gives us a better understanding of the fundamental details,” explained Stefan Ameres, whose team – headed by postdoctoral student Veronika Herzog – developed the scientific basis underlying SLAMseq.
Vienna – fertile ground for innovation
With the right environment – like that at Vienna BioCenter – innovations can be brought to market more quickly, strengthening regional value added in the long run. “This latest success story clearly illustrates that it is worthwhile investing in breeding grounds for innovation such as IMBA and Vienna BioCenter. The inspirational surroundings and the interaction between businesses and research institutes at Vienna BioCenter made a vital contribution to this promising licensing partnership with Lexogen,” commented Michael Krebs, IMBA Administrative Director and a member of the Vienna BioCenter Association board.
Original publication: Herzog et al, “Thiol-linked alkylation for the metabolic sequencing of RNA”, Nature Methods, DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.4435