Personalized medicine is the massive market opportunity next generation sequencing (NGS) offers. The market was about $28 billion in 2011 and dominated by tissue tests to determine drug therapy decisions. The opportunity lies with the ability to generate targeted medicines based on virus/disease composition or individual human genomes. Unfortunately, cost and lack of analytical abilities have acted as impediments to the expansion of this technology into the clinical diagnostics, pharmaceutical and other applied markets, but progress is being made. From a cost perspective, NGS equipment designers have successfully reduced the cost of sequencing a complete human genome to sub-$5,000, from $1 million in 2007. The consensus is that once the price hits or goes below $1,000, the technology will be fiscally viable for more commercial and industrial applications.
One step in this direction has been the desktop analyzers offered most notably by Illunina (NASDAQ: ILMN) and Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE). These instruments are about a sixth of the cost of the higher-end models and are of increasing interest to clinical customers. Both companies have plans to seek FDA approval, with Illumina expecting to submit its request with a specific assay method by the end of 2012. Consumables pull-through appears to be a healthy $55,000, although the sample size is small at this point.
In an effort to reduce the data-interpretation-headwind, Illumina has announced plans to launch five targeted content sets. These consumables were designed by experts to offer streamlined, targeted sequencing for specific genetic diseases or conditions. The targeted conditions include autism, cancer, cardiomyopathy, inherited disease and exome (genetic diseases). The products are only for laboratory use. Shipments begin in Q4 2012. These standardized sets should help advance the analytical abilities of researchers delving into each condition.
Illumina has also teamed up with Partners HealthCare to speed up clinical interpretation. Together they will offer medical geneticists and pathologists infrastructure and networking tools to support the analytics and reporting processes for genetic sequencing data. The companies are combining Illumina’s MiSeq analyzer with Partners’ GeneInsight suite of IT solutions for streamlining analyses and reporting of genetic test results. GeneInsight is FDA approved. The new tools will link to Illumina’s BaseSpace cloud-storage product enabling analysis of the stored data.
Another initiative Illumina has launched is its BaseSpace cloud-storage offering. The service will take genomics data and store it in a cloud-based system for easy sharing and analyzing. This bioinformatics product gives Illumina a key differentiator, as well as a new revenue stream and a way to help move past the data interpretation issue. Illumina will offer one terabyte free, then charge $250 a month for each additional terabyte, or $2,000 for the year. It also offers a 10 terabyte package that runs $1,500 a month, or $12,000 a year. The service will enable clinical customers and smaller research laboratories to avoid having to invest in their own expensive data warehouses. Illumina is also launching an app store for the BaseSpace that will enable researchers to develop analytical tools and sell them through the store, with Illumina taking a 30 percent cut.
Finally, Illumina has announced an addition to its whole genome sequencing service. The company will now offer a “RapidTrack” service that will expedite the sequencing of whole genomes that customers send to the company. Using the new HiSeq 2500, which is capable of sequencing a complete genome in one day, Illumina will now be able to return data sets to customers in less than two weeks. This high-end offering is much improved from main competitor, Complete Genomics, which can take three months or longer to return the completely sequenced genome. We believe this service offers another means to spur the adoption of sequencing techniques in new markets.
Two startups working to speed the process to achieve personalized medicine are DNAnexus and Bina Technologies. DNAnexus also offers a cloud-based service much like Illumina’s, positioning itself between researchers and the sequencing facilities. Bina Technologies is working on software to reduce the 300 gigabytes of information from each complete genome sequence, to a more manageable level. The company reduces the information into profiles, which are more easily uploaded to cloud-systems and are simple to share and manage.
While headwinds still remain, the push towards developing the ultimate market for NGS appears to be more at the forefront of sequence equipment manufacturers than ever before. We believe this bodes well for the long-term outlook for the industry.