Helping Genetic Researchers in the BioMedical Space
During ASHG 2017, we caught up with Dennis Snyder, Senior Director of Global Commercial Operations, and Jarrko Huuskonen,Senior Director of Research and Development at Canon, to get an insight into what they have to offer to genetic researchers.
FLG: What brings Canon Biomedical to ASHG?
Dennis: We started attending the show three or four years ago, but more recently in the last two years we launched products. Before it was more brand awareness for us. We launched a library of genotyping assays two years ago. We have since grown that library, as well as added genotyping controls. We come to ASHG now, not just to build corporate awareness, but also promote those products to help genetic researchers, specifically those that do SNP and indel detection, we also offer assays for some mitochondrial DNA targets.
In addition, we use this time to interact with researchers in this space. We are looking for opportunities to understand the research they are doing and how our current products might support them, and if there are other products we can develop to help support them.
FLG: What has Canon entered the BioMedical space/ market/ industry?
Dennis: A lot of people don’t know this but one of the founders of Canon was a medical doctor, and his initial vision was to see some of the technologies being developed for the cameras to be used in healthcare. He helped developed an X-ray camera back in the 1940s, but the Canon camera took off and monopolized all of the intentions of the organization. He became the President of the company at that time. Interestingly enough, his great nephew is our current CEO and has been for the past 20 years. His family has a lot of physicians and healthcare professionals in it, and he has a great interest and vision to see Canon grow into that. Mr. Mitarai really sees genetics as key in the future to improving healthcare, and so he is very committed not just to healthcare in general, but every component of it. As a result, they started by looking at how they can leverage Canon’s core technologies to get into the space. Interestingly enough when people ask us, how did Canon get into this? The cameras in terms of optics align. We started leveraging those technologies to fulfil this mission.
We started by launching this library and it brought some unique assays to the market that aren’t available anywhere elsewhere. We are continuing to bring some that are novel, like copy number variation assays using high resolution melting for detection.
FLG: How does Canon BioMedical do its genetic variation testing and how does it differ for other applications?
Jarrko: This kind of testing can be done with multiple technologies – different PCR and sequencing technologies. We started working with high resolution melting (HRM) technology, and it’s really very simple because it’s really only looking at the binding of a dye onto a double-stranded DNA. So, because it’s simple, it makes it very cost effective. HRM is also very versatile, it not only looks at small genetic variations, but you can do somatic mutation assays, as well as gene scanning which is outside the scope for many other technologies, it can also be used to detect copy number variations. As a whole, HRM has shown to be quite versatile technology.
FLG: How difficult is it to genotype DNA targets using standard PCR or sequencing?
Jarrko: All of these technologies have their pros and cons. I would say that this method is much simpler than a typical PCR assay and definitely more cost-effective because there is no need for a labelled probe, and then of course with sequencing, you have very high instrumentation costs.
FLG: Are Canon BioMedical products offered as a service?
Jarrko: We don’t currently do any service, we have standalone products only. We are eager to talk to potential customers, and are happy to work together.
How do scientists interpret the results of your high resolution meting PCR assays?
Jarrko: The whole premise of HRM is that it is based on melting temperature, so when the double-stranded DNA opens up it releases the DNA fluorescent dye, and that’s called the melting temperature. That’s the basic premise, if you have a normal or a homozygous variant, they would have a different melting temperature, or if you have a heterozygous variant it is basically a combination of the two, in this case, you actually get a different shape in your melting curve.
From these assays we did some early work on high resolution melting analysis software, so we decided to develop our own. We launched that in August, and it’s freely available for the scientists. We kept the simplicity and the customer workflow in mind, everything is in one single view and you can do all the manipulations there. It also does what is called auto clustering, so users don’t need to think about how to read the genotypes.
FLG: What benefits do scientsts gain from the Novallele Genotyping and Reagents Assays?
Jarrko: The customers have always been close to us, so the full customer solution is really what we wanted to do. Not only are we offering the assays, but we also have controls for every single assay and this is very important. It was my team developing the assays and not having the right controls, but we heard it earlier from the users, so that’s clearly one of the benefits.
The other thing is when we do the development, we do a thorough job in verifying all of the assays. We don’t rely on only bioinformatics to say this is what you should do; we do the design, look at non-target mutations and very often test for them as well. We display all the data on the website, so scientists can see what to expect from the assays.
FLG: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Jarkko: Another benefit of what we have decided to do is that HRM is available across multiple instruments. We have validated some of our assays across 4-5 different instrument platforms, so if the researchers don’t have that particular platform we have either already done that work, or at least we can give them very close guidance to modify assays to work on that particular platform.
Dennis: For us we have this luxury of being a small start-up, in a larger organization and so it’s very much about quality. The Canon brand is closely associated with high quality, and we have an award winning customer service organization, so that’s something we’ve been compelled to take very seriously by upholding that quality standard. Even as a small company, many small start-ups wouldn’t have the luxury of having the resources to do some of the things that we can do for a customer.
With some of the larger companies, the size of the opportunities to be quite frank may not be worth a return on their investment. For us it’s not just about that, it’s about really getting to know our customers more intimately, so we will go the extra mile a lot of the time for a researcher who’s having some trouble trying to figure out how our assays might be used in the research they are doing. We work closely with our R&D team and service support group to make sure that our products are working for them in the way they expect.
Canon BioMedical products are for Research Use Only, not for use in diagnostic procedures.