Slashing genome prices

Complete Genomics promises $5,000 human whole-genome sequencing by next year

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—As whole genome sequencing costs for humans continue to drop dramatically—from $300 million in 2003 to $1 million in 2006 to between $60,000 and $100,000 as of early this year—Complete Genomics is now coming out of "stealth mode" with predictions that it will be able to offer $5,000 human genomes by the second quarter of 2009. This news came a mere five days after Applied Biosystems announced a new genomic analysis platform, the SOLiD 3 System, that is expected to enable scientists to sequence a human genome for approximately $10,000.

Suddenly, the Holy Grail known as the $1,000 human genome isn't sounding so crazy anymore.

For the past two and a half years, Complete Genomics has been working on its technology platform in a 32,000-square-foot facility near San Francisco. The company's leaders now say it is ready to formally launch as the world's first provider of large-scale human genome sequencing services.

It is that business model that sets his company apart from bigger players like Applied Bio, says Dr. Clifford Reid, the president, CEO and chairman of Complete Genomics. The company aims to build the world's largest commercial human genome sequencing center and to offer high-quality, high-throughput, affordable, complete human genome sequencing services to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies as well as other medical researchers that "were previously priced out of the market."

What other companies are doing, Reid says, is to stick to a "traditional instrument sales model," whereas Complete Genomics seeks to relieve customers of operational, computational and capital purchase burdens, allowing them to focus their resources on scientific discovery.

"Sequencing of the human genome has been an academic exercise up to now," Reid says. "We've talked to our prospects out there and for many of them, purchasing the instruments and then having to set up data centers and go through all the other expensive headaches is an unattractive business proposition for them. With us, they'll be able to conduct systematic studies of the genetics of disease and of drug response, and I believe our sequencing services will be a key enabler of ushering in the era of personalized medicine."

Another differentiating factor, says Reid, is that Complete Genomics is focused on the human market, whereas companies like Applied Bio are tackling the broader market of sequencing any kind of organism, human or otherwise.

A full 10 percent of Complete Genomics' sequencing capacity is already allocated to the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, a deal announced roughly the same time as the $5,000 genome news. In phase one of the project with ISB, Complete Genomics will sequence five genomes from samples provided by ISB. Then, once proof-of-concept has been demonstrated, ISB and Complete Genomics plan to expand this collaboration to sequence the genomes of 100 individuals in 2009 and 2,000 individuals in 2010.

As part of its growth strategy, Complete Genomics plans to sequence 1,000 genomes before the end of 2009. The company then plans to sequence 20,000 genomes in 2010.

"Those are much larger numbers than the industry has managed thus far, but still, it's a small number in the greater scheme," notes Dr. Radoje Drmana, chief scientific officer for Complete Genomics. "Even with 20,000 genomes, there's not much you can do with that data, medically speaking, to really understand more than a handful of diseases or drug responses."

Because of that, Complete Genomics is working toward a franchising model, with their current facility serving as the model and blueprint for several more worldwide, Reid says. He's planning on having nine more such centers up and running in the near future, and possibly having a million human genomes sequenced within five years.
"One million genomes represent 1,000 people each in 1,000 disease studies," Reid said. "Our customers will conduct these studies to reveal the genetic basis of all major human diseases including cancer, psychiatric and neurological diseases, metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune diseases, and many other poorly understood multifactorial diseases."

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