Investors are pumping $100 million into a start-up developing technology to propel DNA sequencing into mainstream medicine.

The infusion is expected to enable Pacific Biosciences of California Inc. to introduce in 2010 its high-speed system for reading the chemical “letters” of DNA. The technology is designed to expand the use of sequencing to develop treatments tailored to patients’ genetic makeup.

In time, for example, pharmaceutical researchers may routinely use sequencing to identify people who respond well, or poorly, to a drug based on specific genetic markers.

The federally funded Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, took 13 years and cost $450 million. In five years, Pacific Biosciences will make it possible to sequence a genome in 15 minutes, Chief Executive Hugh Martin said. The initial product will facilitate genome sequencing in a matter of days, at an undisclosed cost, he said.

Corporate investors, asset managers and venture-capital firms are taking part in the latest funding round for Pacific Biosciences, of Menlo Park, Calif. They include Intel Capital, an arm of Intel Corp.; Deerfield Capital Management LLC; T. Rowe Price Group; Morgan Stanley; FMR LLC; AllianceBernstein Holding LP; Maverick Capital Ltd.; Redmile Group; Alloy Ventures; DAG Ventures; Teachers’ Private Capital; Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; and Mohr Davidow Ventures.

A key part of Pacific Biosciences’ system is an enzyme called polymerase that human cells use to copy DNA. With the system, scientists break double-stranded DNA molecules into single strands and then fragment the strands. These fragments are fed into chambers on sequencing chips. Then, individual nucleotide letters, each linked to a fluorescent marker, are added.

Inside each chamber, the polymerase enzyme pairs these letters to their corresponding nucleotides on the DNA fragment. As letters bind, they emit flashes of light, enabling scientists to read the DNA fragment’s sequence.

Other companies seeking to cut the time and cost of DNA sequencing include publicly traded Illumina Inc. and Helicos BioSciences Corp., and closely held Complete Genomics Inc.


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