A $100 Genome Within Reach, Illumina CEO Asks If World Is Ready

(Bloomberg) -- For years, the cost to decode a full human genome has been falling much like computer processing costs -- from hundreds of thousands of dollars per person to about $1,000 today. With a $100 genome getting closer, the CEO of the top maker of DNA sequencers thinks the world may not be ready.

Illumina Inc.’s first machines, introduced in 2006, could decode a full human genome for about $300,000. A model released in 2014 can do so for about $1,000, and has made DNA sequencing widespread, helping diagnose diseases and find new drugs. The company’s latest machines could one day bring the cost close to $100.

A $100 Genome Within Reach, Illumina CEO Asks If World Is Ready

“We are committed to the march to make genomics more accessible to everyone,” Illumina Chief Executive Officer Francis deSouza said in a recent interview at the company’s headquarters in San Diego.

The ability to sequence a full genome for a tenth of the current costs would create an explosion of new health data, showing the detailed genetics of more people. While it could be helpful in research and development of new drugs, deSouza said it’s not yet clear exactly how it would be used to do so.

“My hope is that with the $100 genome we’ll start to see some breakthrough studies that will help us better understand how genomics translates to disease and health,” deSouza said.

The $100 price is still has challenges to overcome, the CEO said.

“Two things need to happen for us to get to that price point. One is we need to do engineering work,” he said. “The second one, which is equally important, is to make sure that our customers have been thinking about what they could do if they had a hundred-dollar genome.”

A $100 genome would be about the cost of popular consumer tests from 23andMe Inc. and Ancestry, which decode only a tiny slice of a person’s DNA. It would create an explosion of data that researchers and patients might not know what to do with.

In 2017, the company unveiled the NovaSeq, a sequencer with entirely new architecture that it said could one day push the cost down to $100. The company’s high-end machines cost almost $1 million, which has kept their use to major medical and research institutions.

“We have line of sight across the investments we’re making in our chemistry, and our camera system and our flow cells to be able to get to the $100 genome,” said Susan Tousi, senior vice president of product development.

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