Genome Sequencing Hits The Long Sought $1,000 Tipping Point

1-14-2014 4-59-37 PM

Illumina, the world’s leading manufacturer of genome sequencing machines, unveils a new ultra-fast sequencer that is capable of processing 20,000 genomes per year, at a cost of only $1,000 each. The landmark announcement cuts the cost of genome sequencing by ten-fold, as it currently costs about $10,000 to sequence a whole human genome.

Researchers have been aggressively pursuing the $1,000 per genome threshold for years, as experts have suggested that at $1,000 the benefit of sequencing a genome beings to align with the cost, and thus the technology could become more mainstream. Researchers looking to include currently unavailable genome data in their studies will also benefit as the price drops. Illumina CEO Jay Flatley explains, “This will be a blockbuster product. To figure out cancer, we need to sequence hundreds of thousands of cancer genomes, and this is the way to do it.”

In 1990, the Human Genome Project formally kicked off the global pursuit of human genome sequencing. The project launched with a goal of sequencing a whole human genome. It had a timeline of 15 years, and a budgeted cost of $3 billion dollars. The project was successful, and ever since the biotech industry has been working to sequence genome’s faster, and cheaper.

Illumina’s new super-sequencer, called the HiSeqX system, will cost $1 million per unit and will be marketed primarily to research institutions. Illumina will begin shipping the units this quarter. Currently, Illumina has a 71 percent market share in the sequencer market. With the new low-cost, high-output sequencer, the company stands to increase its lead over second place Life, which holds a 16 percent market share. Prior to the announcement, analysts estimated that Illumina would net $1.6 billion in FY 2104.

In 2012, Life acquired a startup that had claimed to have cracked the $1,000 threshold with a sequencer it planned to bring to market during 2013, but that project has been beset with technical issues that have yet to be completely resolved.  Ron Andrews, the president of genetic and medical sciences at Life, reports that their sequencer should be available at some point during 2014.

The result will be two competing biotech firms offering sequencing machines capable of whole human genome sequencing for under $1,000. The obvious conclusion is that, in the near future, genome data will become a more generally available tool for researchers investigating the causes of specific diseases, and genome-based research will have an opportunity to truly prove itself.

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