Eureka! The Personal Genome Gold Rush Gets Going


Recently I spent a highly energizing evening at the MIT Enterprise Forum in an Innovations Series Event called “The Future ofthe Personal Genome.” Kevin Davies, Editor-in-Chief of Bio-IT World, moderated a panel of four leaders in the personal genome world: Colin Hill, CEO of GNS Healthcare, Mike Pellini, CEO of Foundation Medicine, George Church of the Personal Genome Project, and Jamie Heywood, Chairman of PatientsLikeMe. Topics included everything from how to spur the public to see the benefit in personal genome sequencing to how to make this information more actionable in a clinical/healthcare setting. But what I was thinking was that the personal genome gold rush was finally beginning in earnest.

Three examples:

Bioinformatics: We have been talking about “drinking from the fire hose” since automated DNA sequencing began in the late 1980’s, but the rate of data generation today is amazing. What persists today is the challenge of interpreting all of this data. Illumina, LifeTech, Complete Genomics, and others, have an unprecedented need for computational biologists. High throughput biology is accelerating, as is the need for programmers, engineers, analysts, and architects. As I write, a small Cambridge-based company (and client), Knome, has seven positions open. Life Technologies has about twenty-three. Just about every company I looked at has an opening for at least one software engineer/programmer. Prediction: We will need to aggressively train new graduates in this area and poach from other technology sectors such as aviation, astronomy, and academia going forward.

DNA Diagnostic Leaders: Of course, blood gas measurements will never go away, but the new opportunity is for genomic scientists and commercial people who can usher in new genomics tests, while respecting current medical practice, privacy issues, and reimbursement requirements. Consider, for example, companies like Foundation Medicine, which are sequencing patients’ individual tumors to deliver on the promise of personalized medicine. Or Good Start Genetics, next-gen sequencing for routine genetic-carrier screening. Although the technologies are potentially game-changing, the challenges of incorporating these new approaches into existing healthcare paradigms remains, and we need people with experience gaining FDA approval and selling to the clinical market. Don Hardison, CEO of Good Start Genetics, has addressed this challenge by hiring many of his former team members from Exact — people with solid molecular diagnostics experience, to complement some of the NGS expertise in the company. Prediction: There are not enough people with DNA sequencing and diagnostics experience to feed these new companies. Cross-training classic diagnostic experts with NGS experts will be the wave of the future. Lots of opportunities moving forward especially for recent graduates.

Sales & Marketing: The platform race is accelerating. Companies such as Oxford Nanopore and Nabsys will continue to develop cutting-edge solutions and will need commercial leaders to bring products to market. Oxford Nanopore is searching for a VP of Sales as I write. Darren Lee just started at Nabsys this week as VP of Marketing and Business Development, and I am sure NobleGen, GenapSysand others are not far behind in their recruiting efforts.

These are just a few areas. When you remember the potential jobs in related fields such as education, clinical genetics, and patient care, you realize that the opportunities starting to open really could be of a gold-rush scale. Look for the confirmation of these positive trends — many of them associated with increased personal genome activity — in the soon-to-be-released new edition of the edition of the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey for 2012-13.

And saddle up, everybody — thar’s jobs in them thar genome hills!

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