Still privately held, Sorrento Valley’s Element Biosciences reported triple-digit quarter-on-quarter growth since the 2022 launch of its signature sequencing platform, AVITI. “Element has exceeded 100 orders of [the AVITI System] and celebrated its 100th installation, with U.S. and international customers in 20 countries,” CEO and Cofounder Dr. Molly He, PhD, wrote to the Business Journal. She added that in the second quarter of 2023, the company reached an estimated 15% of the total sales of mid-throughput sequencing instruments, just one year after its first commercial shipments. “Element has also signed agreements with 11 distributors across the globe.”
Dr. He – who formerly oversaw global protein reagent innovation and global scientific teams at Illumina – was named by Forbes this year as one of the 50 Over 50 Women Changing the World.
She helped launch Element in 2017.
Element touts its AVITI system as the first sequencer to deliver market-leading, factory-scale pricing on a more flexible, benchtop-scale platform. “For many years, sequencing innovation has been confined to the release of larger and larger machines, restricting the resulting cost savings to only the highest-throughput labs,” Dr. He said. “Element has brought real competition to the sequencing industry after years of it being dominated by Illumina, and when there is competition, the customers and the marketplace thrive … as one example: a customer actively using an Illumina NextSeq 2000 [sequencer] can expect to save as much as $1.4 million over three years simply by switching to AVITI. This unparalleled cost advantage enabled Element to become the first company to deliver whole genome sequencing for $200 per genome.”
The ABC and the Octopus
Element says its tech uses a novel form of sequencing, coined as “avidity base chemistry” (ABC). “[It’s] markedly different than the earlier sequencing by synthesis technology as used by Illumina and Singular. ABC is built on a foundation of novel surface chemistry, sequencing chemistry, optics and computing methods that deliver the most flexible and highest-quality sequencing available,” she added. The analogy given is one of an octopus. Element says to imagine the head of an octopus as a place where dye attaches (to visualize the DNA). “Unlike previous technology, which allows only one dye, ABC attaches multiple dyes to one head, creating a very bright signal that is easy for software to identify without errors,” said Dr. He. “Now, picture tentacles extending from the head. Each tentacle is a specific nucleotide (A, T, G, or C), and the multiple arms attach at more than one site, creating a very tight, stable complex. This binding requires less costly reagent than previous technology and improves accuracy.”
In November, Element announced a strategic partnership with the Netherlands-based molecular testing solutions firm QIAGEN (NYSE: QGE) to offer next-generation sequencing (NGS) workflows for the AVITI system.
Also in November, Element welcomed William Donnelly to its board of directors. Donnelly comes with two decades of experience at international instrumentation firm Mettler-Toledo International Inc., where he oversaw the company’s transition from a leveraged buyout to an IPO. He currently serves as lead independent director at Ingersoll Rand Inc. and on the boards of T. Rowe Price and Quanterix Corporation. “[Dr. He] and her co-founders have built an unstoppable team of scientists and business leaders on top of a transformational technology. I am delighted to be joining the board and to further Element’s mission to empower the scientific community and accelerate the field of genomics,” stated Donnelly.
Element has so far raised $400 million in funding from investors such as Foresite Capital, Venrock, Fidelity, RA Capital, T. Rowe Price and Janus Henderson. In the next five or so years, the company sees tremendous potential to reach new applications while using its core tech. “We are working closely with our customers to continually improve and innovate to help further their science. When more researchers can access the highest quality sequencing faster and more cost-effectively, they can accelerate the process of discovery and shorten the time between idea and breakthrough,” added Dr. He.
CEO & CO-FOUNDER: Dr. Molly He, PhD
HEADQUARTERS: Sorrento Valley
NOTABLE: Element CEO and Co-founder Dr. Molly He, PhD was named by Forbes this year as one of the 50 over 50 Women Who are Changing the World