Thermo Fisher Scientific announced plans for a $13.6 billion purchase of Life Technologies, whose subsidiaries include gene-sequencing firm Ion Torrent.

In a move that could alter the dynamics of the gene sequencing business, Thermo Fisher Scientific of Waltham, MA, announced in April plans to buy Life Technologies of Carlsbad, CA, for $13.6 billion.

Like Thermo Fisher, Life Technologies is a global supplier of lab products and services. It owns Ion Torrent, a gene-sequencing company that is widely considered the foremost challenger to market leader Illumina.

The backing and deep pockets of a large company like Thermo Fisher might help make Ion Torrent's technology more accurate and more competitive, says Eric Topol, MD, chief academic officer of Scripps Health in San Diego, CA, and professor of genomics at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA.

“They have the right idea with chip-based sequencing, but they haven't been able to execute on this yet to be totally competitive,” says Topol. “Thermo Fisher's involvement is probably going to be good for this sector. It brings in a lot of oomph and resources.”

Alex Morozov, an analyst with Morningstar, Inc., in Chicago, IL, comments that next-generation sequencing technology justified the hefty sum Thermo Fisher will pay for Life.

“They're clearly interested in next-generation sequencing, otherwise they would not have paid such a price for an otherwise fairly boring company,” he says. “Life under the Thermo Fisher umbrella really brings both research and diagnostics and next-generation sequencing under the same roof.”

Improved sequencing is likely to benefit cancer care as much as, or more than, any other area of healthcare, Morozov says. With the push for personalized medicine, he emphasizes, sequencing becomes more important, and Thermo Fisher wants to provide its customers a full range of services.

Analysts caution, however, that while Ion Torrent's Ion Proton benchtop sequencing system has received a great deal of attention, that product is now competing neck-and-neck with Illumina's MiSeq system. Moreover, they note that Illumina is a powerhouse in genetic analysis, with a range of sequencing products going up to a high-end system said to be able to sequence the entire human genome in a day.

Additionally, some observers suggest that Illumina's product line is better positioned than Ion Torrent for expansion from research work into clinical markets that demand sequencing with very high accuracy.