JPM: Illumina shares surge on new gene sequencing tech

Dive Brief:

  • Genetic sequencing company Illumina unveiled on Monday a new technology, NovoSeq, that the company believes will substantially lower the costs for getting the full readout of a genome.
  • The technology series includes two devices that Illumina says could one day sequence whole genomes for only $100. The NovaSeq 6000, priced at $985,000, will begin shipping March 2017, while the $850,000 NovaSeq 5000 will reach the market mid-2017.
  • Announced in conjunction with the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, the news raised Illumina's stock to $165.04 by close-of-market Tuesday, up more than 16% from the day prior.

Dive Insight:

The Human Genome Project completed the first high-quality, fully sequenced human genome in April 2003. The project locked down funding in 1991 and cost about $2.7 billion — equivalent to $4.78 billion in 2016 due to inflation. By late 2015 however, the cost had dropped to less than $1,500, according to data collected by the National Human Genome Research .

Illumina's new technology could mean lowering the costs again in striking fashion.

"For the last five years we have been hard at work developing the core technologies that will enable the next profound leap in sequencing," Illumina CEO Francis deSouza said during his Jan. 9 presentation at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. "Illumina HiSeq technology moved the cost of sequencing the human genome from $10,000 to $1000, and NovoSeq technology could one day deliver the $100 genome."

NovoSeq can sequence the complete DNA profile of up to 48 people in a single use. To accomplish that volume, Illumina developed more than 70 improvements to its existing technologies, deSouza said. For example, the company revamped its flow cells — parts of the machine that hold onto the DNA and help facilitate the chemical reactions needed for sequencing — to be more dense, thereby allowing more genetic material to be processed per run.

Applications for NovoSeq include comparing tumor and normal tissue to study the genetic links between health and disease, or looking at variants in complex diseases. Illumina expects its new product to be three times faster and around 20% cheaper than existing technology.

“NovaSeq is a key development for clinical research,” Richard Gibbs, founder of the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center, said in a Jan. 9 statement. “We are looking forward to generating tens of thousands of human whole genomes as we begin genome translation in earnest.”

NovaSeq's unveiling seems to have set a positive tone for Illumina throughout its week at the JPM conference. The company also highlighted new partnerships with IBM on Monday and Bio-Rad on Wednesday. The IBM deal will integrate the computer company's Watson technology with the Illumina's cancer genome sequencing platform to speed up the data interpretation process, while the collaboration with Bio-Rad aims to develop innovations for single-cell gene sequencing.

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