Scientist holding a DNA sample with the results on a computer screen in a laboratory
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National diagnostic testing company Quest Diagnostics announced that it is collaborating with Ultima Genomics to leverage Ultima’s high-throughput next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology in oncology and other disease areas. The deal’s goal is to improve access to NGS testing, which the companies note has the potential to improve affordability and patient outcomes in areas such as minimal residual disease (MRD) testing.

Under the deal, Quest will use Ultima’s ultra-high throughput NGS platform to supplement its current whole-exome testing approach. The company envisions using Ultima’s platform to potentially develop and market lab-developed tests leveraging its Haystack solid-tumor MRD technology for clinical applications as well as providing testing services to drug developers.

The collaboration with Quest comes close on the heels of Ultima previewing its first commercial sequencing offering, the UG 100 System, which the company says can sequencing an entire genome for around $100. The platform also has shown high sensitivity for detecting cancer-related gene variants, showing particular prowess in detecting single nucleotide variants (SNVs). With Quest, Ultima gains a partner that already provides comprehensive services in oncology including risk assessment, diagnostics, and treatment monitoring services. It’s national reach sees the company providing services to nearly one-third of all adults in the US and counts roughly 400 AmeriPath pathologists to provide tumor biopsy diagnostics, while it also has approximately 7,000 patient access sites for sample collection.

“Ultima’s technology was designed for applications requiring greater sequencing depth, breadth, or frequency and both MRD testing and whole-genome sequencing are premier examples of these,” said Gilad Almogy, CEO of Ultima Genomics. “Our unique advantages in SNV detection, combined with greater sequencing depth at lower cost can be transformational for oncology applications and MRD, as well as for cell-free DNA applications and applications with challenging samples. The collaboration with Quest emphasizes our focus on enabling the leading organizations that will help us scale our technology and, most importantly, benefit patients and providers.”

Ultima, which was founded in 2016, noted that it has created its technology specifically to overcome the cost obstacle that has limited applications of whole-genome sequencing in the clinical setting to rare diseases and within some oncology settings. The company’s approach has been to create a sequencing platform that employs an open substrate, which can provide billions of reads, while also being significantly cheaper than systems that rely on flow cells. The company’s 200-millimeter silicon wafer harbors a dense array of sequencing beads, and when it spins, reagents dispensed near its center are spread over its surface by centrifugal force. Then, optical scanning of the rotating surface is performed continuously, in a process analogous to that used for reading a compact disk.

While the Ultima’s UG 100 platform received a lukewarm reception upon its initial unveiling in 2022, the company has taken the time since then to improve its technology by leaning heavily on the feedback of its early-access customers, Almody told GEN in October last year.

The deal with a national player like Quest is surely a feather in its cap to make a lasting impact as an enabling technology for advanced diagnostics.

“By radically driving sequencing costs down, Ultima has changed the economics of genomics so that other costs in the testing value chain become critically important,” noted Mark Gardner, senior vice president, Molecular Genomics and Oncology at Quest. “And that’s where Quest’s strengths come in: With our scale in solid tumor and blood testing, we can drive costs down even further while also increasing access, so more people can benefit from the clinically rich insights of whole genome sequencing.”

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