January 15, 2014

Illumina Establishes $1,000 Genome

Tiffany Trader
Illumina HiSeqX Ten

Genomics moves rapidly. Not long after the first human genome was sequenced in 2003 at a cost of $3 billion, the biotech industry set its sights on the $1,000 genome mark. Realizing this vision has been a primary goal of the sequencing community for nearly a decade, and now it seems that the $1,000 genome is finally within reach, thanks to a new high-end DNA supercomputer designed by Illumina for “factory scale” sequencing of human genomes.

Currently, it costs about $10,000 to sequence a human genome. San Diego-based Illumina says its HiSeq X Ten (pronounced “High Seek 10”) system can process 20,000 genomes per year at a cost of $1,000 each. The accomplishment rests on economies of scale and advanced features like faster chemistry and better optics that bring down costs.

Illumina CEO Jay Flatley announced the new sequencing machine, built specifically for human genomes, at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on Tuesday. The machine has been optimized to achieve high-throughput without sacrificing quality. The sequencer can identify DNA variants ten times faster than its predecessor, another Illumina model. And while there are faster machines out there, they don’t operate with the same quality standards, according to Flatley.

The CEO further explained that the system could partially sequence five human genomes in one day, while a complete run takes three days. In those three days, the machine can complete 16 high-quality human genomes.

Proponents of personalized medicine who were waiting for the $1,000 genome to make customized medical testing and diagnostics possible may have to wait a little longer. The HiSeq X Ten System is intended for population-scale projects to further researchers’ understanding of human health. Also, the systems themselves aren’t cheap. They will be sold in sets of at least 10 machines at a base price of $10 million.

“With the HiSeq X Ten, we’re delivering the $1,000 genome, reshaping the economics and scale of human genome sequencing, and redefining the possibilities for population-level studies in shaping the future of healthcare,” says the CEO. “The ability to explore the human genome on this scale will bring the study of cancer and complex diseases to a new level. Breaking the ‘sound barrier’ of human genetics not only pushes us through a psychological milestone, it enables projects of unprecedented scale. We are excited to see what lies on the other side.”

At least three customers have already placed orders for the new sequencers. These include Macrogen, a next-gen sequencing service organization, based in Seoul, South Korea, with a laboratory in Rockville, Maryland; the well-regarded Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, also a leader in the biomedical research field. The systems are expected to ship in March.