For companies seeking to make their mark in the ultra-competitive next-generation sequencing (NGS) market, new technology and lower prices may no longer be enough.
As the size of the NGS sequencing market grows and an increasing number of NGS purchasers evaluate an expanding array of providers and technologies (see William Blair’s Next-Generation Sequencing Survey), NGS companies are beginning to look beyond price points and product specs in an attempt to stand out.
Ion Torrent on the Offensive. Consider Ion Torrent, an NGS newcomer recently acquired by Life Technologies, which launched its first product (the Personal Genome Machine) a scant four months ago. Since then, Ion Torrent has announced improvements to the PGM’s output, read length and sample prep (coverage from Matthew Herper of Forbes here and here).
As it seeks to distinguish the PGM from its competitors’ products, particularly Illumina’s offerings (see J.P. Morgan’s Next Gen Sequencing Survey), Ion Torrent has added a new dimension to its PGM campaign. Ion Torrent recently launched several creative online advertisements, with its side-by-side comparison of the PGM and Illumina’s MiSeq system—modeled after Apple’s popular “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” campaign—raising the most eyebrows.
Earlier this week we took a look back at 2010 and offered our projections for the coming year in personal genomics. Topic #1, just as it was last year: the $1,000 genome.
In hindsight, it might have been ill-advised to offer predictions about the near-term future of genome sequencing during the same week in which one of the year’s major industry conferences (the JP Morgan annual Healthcare Conference) is taking place.
Last January we kicked off the new year by posing “Five Questions for Personal Genomics in 2010.” Here were the five questions we asked:
1. Will the $1,000 genome live up to the hype?
2. Will personal genomics stay DTC?
3. How will the ongoing gene patent debate affect the progress of personalized medicine?
4. When and where will the next regulatory shoe fall?
5. Who will control the data?
A year later the question that comes first to mind is, has anything really changed?
The short answer is no, not fundamentally, although that is not meant to imply that nothing of note happened in 2010. Far from it, as significant legal, regulatory, policy and technological developments continued to reshape the personal genomics landscape.
With that in mind, we welcome 2011 with a look back at the year that was, and a look ahead at what to expect from 2011 and beyond.
It is shaping up to be an eventful fourth quarter for genomic sequencing companies. Investors welcomed sequencing newcomer Pacific Biosciences (PacBio) to the public stage with a strong initial public offering (IPO). According to The Wall Street Journal, the company managed “the first U.S. life-sciences [IPO] this year to price well and trade higher” (although the stock has since traded down somewhat). Up next: another next-gen sequencing IPO with Complete Genomics (CGI) expected to follow PacBio into the public market as early as tomorrow.1
The past few weeks have also seen strong third quarter earnings reports from market leaders Illumina (earnings recap) and Life Technologies (earnings recap), with both companies touting double-digit growth in their next-generation sequencing businesses. Illumina and Life Technologies (Life) are also hard at work on their next generation of products which are intended to compete more directly with the offerings from PacBio and CGI (Oxford Nanopore for Illumina, Ion Torrent and Starlight for Life). Meanwhile, China’s own sequencing entrant, BGI, continues to buy up sequencers (first from Illumina, more recently from Life), and what will soon become the world’s largest provider of genomic sequencing has its own ambitious plans.
Another week, another drop in the cost of whole-genome sequencing. The latest announcement comes from Life Technologies, which yesterday announced the launch of its SOLiD 4 sequencing system. The details of the announcement are well-covered by GenomeWeb and Matthew Herper of Forbes.com.
In brief, the SOLiD 4 generates 100 gigabases of data per run at a cost of $6,000 per genome, a cost that appears to account solely for the consumables and does not include the cost of the machine or of interpreting all of that sequence data. According to GenomeWeb, Life is also promising an upgrade to its system – SOLiD 4hq – in the second half of 2010 which it expects to triple the data output at half of the cost: 300 megabases per run, $3,000 per sequence.
As for the impact of Life’s SOLiD 4 announcement, Matthew Herper hits the nail on the head:
But although the news is good for Life and will keep it in the game as the price of decoding the genetic code continues to drop, the specs of this new machine don’t seem good enough to upset Illumina’s place as the first choice of geneticists. “It’s a solid improvement, but I don’t think this changes the game,” says Isaac Ro, an analyst at Leerink Swan who follows both companies.
The biggest industry developments last week were being announced at J.P. Morgan’s 28th Annual Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. The Genomics Law Report covered Illumina’s announcement of its new next-generation genomic sequencing machine (Another Stop on the Road to the $1,000 Genome), the HiSeq 2000, which promises to sequence an entire genome in one week for $10,000. Illumina’s $10,000 price point represents a new commercial sequencing benchmark, but it is unlikely to deter the company’s competitors. Those include sequencing-as-a-service provider Complete Genomics, which followed up Illumina’s announcement with one of its own, declaring that it plans to sequence up to one million human genomes worldwide over the next five years.
I’ve discussed previously the importance of analyzing just what you get when you purchase a whole-genome sequence. Illumina’s $10,000 genome does not include the cost of the machine or the necessary data analysis, whereas Complete Genomics offers human genome sequences starting at $20,000 while providing its own hardware and data analysis. However, as Matthew Herper of Forbes pointed out last week, the real number to pay attention to in Illumina’s announcement may have been 128—the number of new Illumina machines that BGI committed to buy—and not $10,000. As this recent survey of research labs by In Sequence suggests, current or so-called “second-generation” sequencing platforms, including the one utilized by the HiSeq 2000, continue to make inroads into sequencing centers worldwide, posing an obstacle to Complete Genomics and other newcomers attempting to crack the genomic sequencing space that might not be overcome on price alone.
The latest stop on the road to the $1,000 genome? San Francisco, CA, where J.P. Morgan’s 28th Annual Healthcare Conference is in full swing. There is an abundance of real-time Twitter coverage from the conference, but certain announcements warrant a more detailed discussion.
The announcement generating the biggest buzz today came from Illumina, Inc., whose CEO Jay Flatley unveiled a new genome sequencing machine, the HiSeq 2000. According to Matthew Herper of Forbes.com, Illumina’s new machine “will decode a person’s DNA in one week using $10,000 worth of materials – five times cheaper than any other competing gadget on the market.” Herper adds that the machines will begin shipping in February with a cost of $690,000 (compared to $500,000 for Illumina’s current model). Illumina’s own product page for the HiSeq 2000 provides more technical details, including coverage (~30x) and read length (2×100 bp). There have also been unconfirmed rumors that the machine will come equipped with an iPhone user interface, a concept that Flatley first pitched at last summer’s Consumer Genetics Show.
If it performs as advertised, the HiSeq 2000 is likely to be a huge hit with large genome sequencing centers, as evidenced by the announcement that the BGI (formerly the Beijing Genomics Institute) has agreed to purchase a whopping 128 of the new sequencing systems. But what, if anything, does the Illumina announcement mean for individuals consumers interested in receiving a complete genomic sequence?
Death, taxes and January prediction columns: these things are inevitable. So what? A new year offers a convenient—if arbitrary—time to review the year that was and contemplate what lies ahead. Without further ado, here are five of the questions the Genomics Law Report is asking as we kick off 2010.
1. Will the $1,000 genome live up to the hype? Affordable whole-genome sequencing is coming, possibly as early as this year depending on whom you ask. But when the day inevitably arrives, after the media frenzy has subsided, will the $1,000 genome prove anti-climactic?
Whole-genome sequencing is a means to an end and not an end in itself. The understandable excitement surrounding Complete Genomics’ November announcement that it had sequenced three genomes for an average cost of $4,400 often neglected to focus on what the price tag did not cover: the substantial costs associated with interpreting the genomic data.
For genomics researchers, the falling cost of whole-genome sequencing is a continuing cause for celebration, enabling increasingly ambitious research projects. But the success of personal genomics, which is what really matters to consumers, patients and healthcare providers, requires more than inexpensive genomic data. The real breakthrough in personal genomics will come when we can offer individuals affordable access to their whole-genome sequence as well as to the genomic tools and knowledgebase necessary for those individuals to put that data to use.
The big news buzzing through the world of genomics this afternoon is the publication of a paper in the journal Science announcing the production of three whole-genome sequences at an average materials cost of $4,400. The work was performed by the third-generation sequencing company Complete Genomics Incorporated, along with researchers from George Church’s lab at Harvard Medical School.
The Race for the $1,000 Genome
Complete’s $4,400 price tag doesn’t include costs for the company’s infrastructure, such as its Silicon Valley data farm and the army of analysts and technicians required to make sense of the data; the company lists more than 60 employees in this paper’s author list. The company is actually selling genomes at $20,000 apiece in minimum orders of five; costs go down as the order size increases. That puts it slightly behind the schedule it set at its launch; the $5,000 genomes won’t be available until next year.
The announcement from Complete Genomics is hardly unexpected. At its launch last fall the company promised that it would deliver $5,000 genomes (and 1,000 of them, not just 3) by the end of 2009.
From a personal genomics standpoint, there is no question that Complete is a viable contender in the race to deliver affordable, individual whole-genome sequences. Spurred by competition from the likes of IBM, Illumina, Pacific Biosciences, Oxford Nanopore and others, the $1,000 genome continues to draw closer. It is no longer a question of if but when that magic number will be attained.
But while the $1,000 genome competition makes for an exciting horserace, the real focus of today’s announcement should be not on how much a genome sequence costs, but on what you can (or cannot) do with that sequence.
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The quest for the $1,000 genome—viewed by many as the point at which whole-genome sequencing will become cost-effective and widely available—is a fierce competition populated by a cast of start-ups and specialized genomics companies.
The most well-known entrants in the next-generation sequencing market are companies such as Oxford Nanopore, Pacific Biosciences and Complete Genomics; names that are hardly familiar to the average patient or consumer. And the wilder the sequencing claims—e.g., a full genome “for less than $100 in under an hour“—the more obscure, at least for the moment, the company: Halcyon Molecular, BioNanomatrix and NABsys among others.
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