It’s getting progressively cheaper to sequence your entire genome. Earlier in June, Illumina announced it would provide sequencing for close to $50k, half of their original price. Not to be outdone, Complete Genomics just released on Monday that it had gathered $45 million dollars in funding. The Silicon Valley based company is planning to use that money to further develop their streamline sequencing operations so that they can offer a complete genome for just $5000 by next year. CG’s goal is to finish 10,000 sequences by years end 2010. Even though that’s later than we had hoped, it’s still a whole lot of DNA and at the cheapest price for a whole genome seen so far. The question is, can they really pull it off?
We’ve been looking for a company, any company really, to break the $1000 price mark for a complete genome sequencing sometime in the next few years. That’s about the point where retail sales of the service will explode. With their exponentially decreasing price tag, Complete Genomics might be on that path. However, we know of at least one company that is trying to reach that goal by the end of this year. Stay tuned for that story in the next few weeks.
If you’ve never heard of Complete Genomics, read our first and second story to catch up. Basically they use a common form of short read sequencing and throw in a ton of computer power to sequence a human genome. Interest in personal genomics is escalating as genetic links to diseases are discovered. 23andMe already offers some testing for such diseases and is hoping to gather samples for further clinical trials. By providing the entire genome for perusal on the cheap, CG could make it economically feasible to expand that research into many more illnesses. Already, we’ve shown you how some facilities are erroneously promising to predict a child’s aptitude based on genetic sampling. Perhaps with the cheap sequencing CG could provide, scientific research will match pace with the growing demand for such testing.
Daniel MacArthur of Genetic Future was able to pry CG head Cliff Reid to provide some details in how they hope to achieve their goals. First, Reid disclosed that the test won’t be offered directly to consumers, but rather through retail providers such as Knome and 23andMe. That means the price you or I will see could be considerably higher than $5k. Whatever the retail price, Reid promises 120 billion base pairs sequenced, 98% of the genome, with just one error in 10,000. That’s considerably better stats than what CG offered in February (92% of genome, about one error in 1,000).
Between now and year’s end 2009, Complete Genomics will focus on its dozens of customers currently in the line up. These include the Broad Institute out of MIT and Harvard which announced it was purchasing at least 5 genomes from CG in March. The Broad Institute reportedly paid $20k for each of their genomes which might be taken as the current baseline price for CG customers. If so, that’s a factor of four that the company has to make up between now and next year.
But scaling is no problem for genome sequencing. Remember that it took 15 years to sequence the first human genome, but the next 6 were done in 24 months. Now we’re talking about doing thousands a year. That’s just nuts and one of the amazing parts about sequencing that I love. Exponential growth is sexy science. And it’s supposed to be one of CG’s strengths. They just finished their first genome in the summer of 2008, and are now on schedule to finish 100 by the end of 2009. Current estimates of finishing 1000 by mid 2010, and 9000 more by the end of that year fit within the exponential growth curve. As MacArthur points out, most of these sequencing services will likely be purchased by researchers in genomic and cancer studies. So the demand is also there.
How can CG scale so quickly? By remaining inflexible but efficient. Their process doesn’t rely on making huge improvements in sequencing technology. Or finding a new sequencing technique. It comes down to streamlining the process. Stick to one task, human genome sequencing, miniaturize whenever possible, fewer reagents means lower costs, and build build build. You can bet a huge portion of that $45 million is going to expanding their facilities in Mountain View.
Who provides the cheap genomes is probably less important than the change it will create. While scientific research will undoubtedly benefit first, the public at large will likely become a dominant consumer. Genetic information is on the journey to becoming one of the most important sets of data someone can know about themselves, with insights into disease, aptitudes, and longevity. Give us the chance for cheap access to that info and you’ll never run out of customers. Just a little while longer, it’s bound to happen.
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