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Next Gen Sequencing Comes Into Its Own – Big Time

There’s an undeniable excitement when a new technology really hits its stride, and that excitement pretty much sparkled all over John Boyce’s third Consumer Genetics Show. There was the A-list of academic and corporate speakers. There was the participation of the full range of stakeholders, from regulatory experts, genomics CEOs, and academic leaders to cancer patients (the affordable $20 entrance fee helped). There was the fact that John is one of the most well-networked people in our business, and he’s got a Midas touch when it comes to anticipating markets and opportunities. Bonus points for the “old home week” feel for former ABI-ers like me. Above all, though, there was the – no other word for it — thrill of witnessing a technology reach wow level. That makes for one heck of a conference.

One huge conference headline is that people are finally making real money off NGS. Jonathan Rothberg was radiant throughout his presentation. Wouldn’t you be, if you’d sold Ion Torrent to LifeTech for $350-725M (depending on milestone payments)? He dazzled the audience with the story of Ion Torrent’s sequencing the deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany – in two hours. Jay Flatley was justifiably jubilant, too. He’s grown Illumina’s market cap from $4B to $9B, and done it in a single year. Outstanding financial returns – and with the MiSeq platform about to be launched this summer, it looks like the rest of 2011 will be bountiful for Illumina shareholders too. Jay continued where he left off last year by loading his entire genome on an iPad 2; then extended the show-and-tell to include a look at the annotations and software for personal genome analysis. He also announced a dramatic drop in whole-genome sequencing prices to only $7,500 for an individual or $10,000 for a tumor and a patient. Incredible.

This NGS market will drive a great deal of opportunity. George Church, our resident Harvard expert, predicted that very soon there will be hand-held NGS devices with no PCR or special sample prep, and that in-situ 3D/4D NGS for cancer and infectious diseases will be emerging. He predicted, too, that we are hitting the data deluge, which means advances in interpretation and integration software will take center stage. That’s good news for Ingenuity, Selventa, GeneGo, DNA Nexus, and lots of those bioinformatics companies poised for just this opportunity. Paul Morrison, our Dana Farber Cancer Institute NGS guru, led a lively panel discussion that included some of the powerhouses in NGS platforms. Illumina was there, as were new entrants such as NobleGen, NabSys, and GnuBio. They’re all hoping to “pull a Rothberg” – and let’s hope they can.

What’s really becoming clear is that the power of Next Gen Sequencing and other developments could help shift the traditional balance between the drug industry and its poor stepchild, the diagnostic industry. Randy Scott, CEO of Genomics Health, made the point that oncology drugs are effective in only about 20% of patients. That means that we are usually not providing the correct treatment for patients, and are therefore needlessly over-prescribing chemotherapy when another approach would be better. No wonder, then, that Randy joined Steve Burrill and a chorus of others in calling for a strong independent diagnostic industry not subservient to the pharma industry. Amen.

In closing, let’s all hope that our drug costs go down and our access to highly informative personalized diagnostics tests go up. And let’s also hope that John Boyce, now CEO of GnuBIO, a new entry in the Next Gen sequencing space, is eating his Wheaties and will still have time to organize a great fourth conference June 2012. Kudos again to you John.

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