HiSeq 2000
Illumina recently unveiled it's new sequencer, which shows some significant improvements.

The ongoing race to become the household name for whole genome sequencing is speeding up. Industry giants Illumina (ILMN) and Complete Genomics have both made recent announcements which demonstrate how serious this competition really is. The most recent battleground is the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco where thousands of investors and billions of dollars are at stake. Illumina unveiled a new sequencing machine, the HiSeq 2000, which has 30x coverage and 2×100 base pair read length. Importantly, it only requires $10k in materials to process each sample and can sequence two entire genomes over a period of about 8 days. Complete Genomics has countered with some impressive news of their own. This fall they announced the sequencing of 3 individual genomes at an average materials price of just $4400, and future whole genome sequencing (WGS) will be sold at just $20k per sample with large price breaks as order sizes increase. According to their twitter feed, CG told investors at JP Morgan this week that they have delivered 50 genomes and plan to complete a whopping 5000 more in 2010. We’ll get a chance to learn more about Complete Genomics plans for this year when we interview CEO Cliff Reid at PMWC next week. It’s a fierce battle between these two genetic giants, but the war is likely to lead to some amazing benefits to you and I.

As WGS becomes cheaper, we’ll see gains in research, diagnosis, and genetic treatments. What constitutes “cheap” is really at the heart of this competition. Certainly genome prices are falling and will continue to do so. Singularity Hub believes, as many do, that the magic sales tag reads around $1000. At that cost, most individuals in industrialized nations will be able to afford WGS (or pressure their insurance providers to cover it). We would see nearly universal sequencing among those interested in harvesting the benefits of genetic research.

Both companies have a ways to go. Illumina’s price per sequencing is still hovering near $10k or above with the HiSeq 2000, though this is about one fifth the price of their first personal genome studies (~$48k). The new sequencing machine, however, does have some major promise at becoming a definitive tool in the market. The Beijing Genomics Institute has shown interest in purchasing 128 machines! At $690k a piece, that’s a major investment.

Complete Genomics is shooting for the $1000 price line by focusing exclusively on human genomes and economies of scale. Hopefully Singularity Hub will be able to tour their new (and large) facilities in Silicon Valley soon. CG’s commitment to 5000 genomes in 2010 is both promising and concerning. It’s remarkable that the genetics company is following a seemingly exponential ramp up in production going into the new year. Unfortunately, CG had originally promised 10,000 genomes to be completed in this time frame. I’m actually okay with the factor of two discrepancy. As long as CG sequencing is in the thousands, and not hundreds, I think we can be very hopeful for reaching the $1000 benchmark in the next few years.

I should mention that this isn’t a two-horse race. Not really. While Illumina and Complete Genomics are dominating the media feeds and the production benchmarks, there are other genetic sequencing companies. And, it’s still very early in the formation of the WGS industry. We could see a dark horse candidate arrive and become the new household name for sequencing. Genetic expertise isn’t limited to the US and we should all keep an eye out for companies in Europe, China, and India preparing to jump ahead in the race.

As always when dealing with genetics, I find the writing at Genetic Future to be of enormous help in putting new developments in perspective. Along with the Genomics Law Report, GF provided a well reasoned view on the recent developments at Illumina. I would also encourage interested readers to check out CG’s twitter feed, as they put some really juicy news in there on occasion. Hopefully between these sources (and Singularity Hub of course) we’ll be able to keep you abreast of all that is going on in the genetic sequencing industry. This is exciting stuff, folks. Starting now, genetic research is being accelerated by the lowered costs of WGS and we can hope to reap the benefits of those studies in the next five to ten years. In that same time frame you may see personal genomics fall into your budget. That’s going to change our healthcare, the way we plan our lives, and maybe even how we think of ourselves. The genetic revolution is coming.

[image credit: Illumina]