Thursday, March 20, 2014

The seed of efficient genomic sequencing

Technology: The $1,000 genome

Imagine for a moment that you have back ten years, and as the health research responsible in the government you decide to allocate $230 million to achieve a $1000 individual genome sequencing. At that moment there was a monopoly by one company, Sanger. Your effort was to promote genomic applied research, better sequencing, and doing so, the monopoly would be undermined.
This is precisely what the US government did through the Advanced sequencing technology awards and right now has achieved its aim, a more efficient sequencing. They have been extremely successful and are closing the program  (NHGRI) this year: the goal has been achieved.
The funds allowed to break the former monopoly (Applied Biosystems) and at the same time, ten years later, a new quasi-monopoly has appeared (Illumina). This extraordinary story is well explained in Nature:
Researchers are optimistic that another technology will emerge to challenge Illumina. Most think, in fact, that the crucial questions for the field will shift away from technology. Now that sequencing is cheap enough to talk about scanning every patient's genome, or at least the protein-coding portion of it, it is still not clear how that information will translate into improved care (see Nature; 2014). These more complex issues will require another great leap in genomic science — one that could make the trouncing of Moore's law seem easy.

PS. For those that support patents, this is a good example of how prizes substitute patents to spur innovation and confirms Mckinsey article.

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