Advancing genomics research: An inside look at Azenta Life Sciences' new Oxford Genomics Laboratory

insights from industryDavid Buck, Director of Operations, Azenta Life SciencesJohn Todd, Professor of Precision Medicine, University of Oxford

This interview delves into the capabilities and services of Azenta Life Sciences' new Oxford Genomics Laboratory, discussing its role in advancing genomics research in the UK, the unique setup process, and future expansion plans.

Can you provide an overview of GENEWIZ Multiomics & Synthesis Solutions from Azenta Life Sciences and the new Oxford Genomics Laboratory, as well as the services and technologies it offers?

David: GENEWIZ from Azenta Life Sciences is much more than just a sequencing service provider. With a global presence and numerous laboratories, we offer a range of genomics solutions including next generation sequencing, gene synthesis, Sanger sequencing, molecular genetics, and cloning. We cater to researchers who require minimal support as well as to those who want to work in a more collaborative manner and use us as an extension of their lab. Although not every site offers all services, GENEWIZ as a whole provides an extensive portfolio of genomics and analytical services to our customers.

The Oxford Genomics Laboratory is dedicated exclusively to next generation sequencing (NGS). Initially, we are focusing on whole genome sequencing,  RNA sequencing, and run-only services, rather than offering our entire portfolio from the start. This phased approach prevents operational overload and ensures quality service delivery.

The demand for run-only services is notably high. This is likely because the latest sequencing technologies are prohibitively expensive for traditional core or small research labs. Outsourcing these services to GENEWIZ from Azenta makes them accessible and affordable for these labs.

With a Sanger sequencing facility already operational in the UK, why was it important for Azenta Life Sciences to open a separate facility for next generation sequencing in the UK?

David: The primary reason for expanding into next generation sequencing (NGS) was the growing demand for this service. Our Sanger lab is highly efficient and serves as a logistics hub. We have been offering NGS to our customers for some time, but this required shipping materials from the UK to Leipzig. After Brexit, this process became a logistical challenge.

Azenta had a great opportunity when the Oxford Genomics Centre (OGC) was closing. The lab had a large customer base accustomed to working with a talented team that I built over 14 years. Although the OGC lab itself was closing, there was still a strong desire among the former OGC team and its customers to continue providing exceptional services.

Some might argue that combining everything on one site would have been more cost-effective. However, we would have lost the strong customer connections in the Oxford region. As the former head of the OGC, I was able to bring five key members of my management team to this new venture at Azenta, making the transition both exciting and rewarding.

This background highlights why Azenta's Oxford lab focuses exclusively on NGS, ensuring we maintain the high level of service our customers expect while navigating the logistical challenges posed by Brexit.

What was unique about the process of setting up this lab?

David: Labs are being established around the world regularly, but what made our setup unique was the expertise of the people we hired— my former team from the Oxford Genomics Centre (OGC). Their extensive experience in the field was invaluable.

Another remarkable aspect of this setup was the transformation process. Although we didn't fully appreciate it until the project was completed, it took only 10 weeks to convert a high-end gym into a next generation sequencing facility.

Can you discuss the role of Azenta's new laboratory in advancing genomics research in the UK?

David: The most important aspect of our facility is our cutting-edge technology, including advanced sequencing platforms and automation. We also have sophisticated internal LIMS systems and a wealth of experience. Our team includes Ph.D.-level project managers who interact directly with our customers at every step of their project, providing deep scientific understanding and guidance.

Having this facility in the UK is crucial. As a scientist who previously worked with service providers like GENEWIZ, I know the importance of being able to communicate directly with the scientists handling your work and ensuring that your samples are processed locally. This not only keeps your samples within the UK but also ensures that your data remains secure and close to home.

How do you see NGS services, like those offered at the new Oxford Genomics Laboratory, helping to overcome some of the current limitations or challenges faced in the medical field?

John: Genomics is absolutely crucial to the government's life science initiatives. It is a key part of letting the NHS evolve into molecular medicine and disease prevention. At the heart of that is sequencing DNA.

There are many advances in genomics and that allows major studies, like UK Biobank and Our Future Health, to move forward rapidly and gain all sorts of insights into human health and disease prevention.

What measures are in place to ensure the reliability and high accuracy of the data produced by the laboratory?

David: Our commitment to validating the effectiveness of everything we do is paramount. We have stringent controls in place to ensure our processes work properly. Automation is crucial in a high-throughput environment, and we strive to automate as many processes as possible to guarantee reliability and reproducibility.

We utilize cutting-edge technologies, such as the latest MagPip Star V system from Hamilton Robotics, which represents state-of-the-art automation. To maintain our high standards, we only hire individuals who understand the science behind our operations. Even then, they must undergo a rigorous training process to ensure they meet our exacting standards.

What impact do you anticipate the new Oxford Genomics Laboratory from Azenta Life Sciences to have on the local scientific community?

John: The Oxford ecosystem is one of the leaders in human health and disease prevention in the UK and worldwide. Having an amazing sequencing facility like this on our doorstep allows us to work faster, more accurately and achieve more at a lower cost. This can significantly enhance discovery in medical research, ultimately benefiting patients.

What feedback have you received from the scientific community about the Oxford lab?

David: When the OGC facility closed down, I had to notify its customers about the facility’s closure, which left a significant wave of unhappiness as they relied heavily on the services offered at OGC.

Now, these customers are overjoyed to have local access to genomics capabilities once again with the opening of Azenta’s Oxford lab. They can continue working with the same team they've trusted for the past 14 years. Being able to visit us locally and discuss projects in person is a major selling point. They appreciate knowing that their samples and data will remain within the UK and that they can consult with highly qualified experts about their projects.

How does Azenta Life Sciences plan to expand or evolve its services in the future for the UK?

David: The most important thing is that we provide services that our customers want and need. It is essential to be the fastest, most cost-effective, and knowledgeable, but just because you build something does not necessarily mean the customer will use it. Therefore, when expanding any operation, it is crucial to consider what the customer base wants.

So far, we have started with whole genome sequencing, RNA sequencing, and run-only sequencing services offered at the Oxford lab. We are also planning to add a locally based extraction service in the near future.

Regarding the next step for the Oxford Genomics Lab, there are many ideas. We have numerous suppliers who want us to add their technology to our sequencing portfolio. Although I would love to incorporate all these technologies, our expansion must be realistic and driven by customer demand.

What excites you most about the future possibilities enabled by the new Oxford Genomics Laboratory from Azenta Life Sciences?

David: We are passionate about high-throughput genomics and supporting the incredible scientific research happening at Oxford, throughout the UK, and around the world. As an experienced team including Ph.D.-level experts, our focus is on advancing science by generating data faster than anyone else globally.

In addition to data generation, we offer analytical support when requested. Our services cater to various needs, providing multiple layers of support including consultations, real-time updates, and post-delivery assistance.

Customers who prefer a hands-off approach can simply go online, place an order, send their samples, and collect the data without any additional interaction. On the other hand, we also offer comprehensive analytical support for those who need it. We aim to meet our customers' needs at every level.

About David Buck

David Buck, Ph.D., is the Director of Operations at Azenta Life Sciences in the UK. He has over three decades of leadership in molecular biology, excelling in complex restructuring, global expansion, and pioneering DNA sequencing technology to enhance scientific performance and productivity.

 

 

About John Todd 

John Todd, Ph.D., is a Professor of Precision Medicine at the University of Oxford and Director of the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics. He is renowned for pioneering genome-wide genetic studies and researching type 1 diabetes genetics and disease mechanisms to develop clinical interventions. Currently, his research focuses on ultra-low doses of interleukin-2 and the role of the microbiome in T1D.

 

About Azenta Life Sciences 

Azenta is a leading provider of life sciences solutions worldwide, enabling impactful breakthroughs and therapies to market faster. Azenta provides a full suite of reliable cold-chain sample management solutions and multiomics services across areas such as drug development, clinical research and advanced cell therapies for the industry's top pharmaceutical, biotech, academic and healthcare institutions globally. Our global team delivers and supports these products and services through our industry-leading brands, including GENEWIZ, FluidX, Ziath, 4titude, Limfinity, Freezer Pro, Barkey and B Medical Systems.

Azenta is headquartered in Burlington, MA, with operations in North America, Europe and Asia. For more information, please visit www.azenta.com.


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