Illumina hits the $1,000 genome mark with a big-data 'cannonball'

For more than a decade, genomics researchers have sought to cut the cost of sequencing the human genome to $1,000. Now, finally, that goal is within reach. At the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference this week, Illumina ($ILMN) unveiled a system to kick-start the era of low-cost, industrial-scale sequencing of human genomes.

Illumina's HiSeq X Ten is designed to sequence a human genome for $1,000.
Illumina's HiSeq X Ten genome sequencing system

The system, called HiSeq X Ten, is actually 10 machines working together to sequence 20,000 genomes per year at a cost of $1,000 each. With Illumina selling the system for $10 million, HiSeq X Ten is beyond the budget--or requirements--of most laboratories, but it has already found a user base. The Broad Institute, Sydney-based Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Korea-headquartered Macrogen have placed orders. Illumina expects to sell 5 of the systems this year.

Macrogen will use its system to increase sequencing of Asian populations and therefore accelerate construction of its planned genomics database. Similar large-scale sequencing projects are being run by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the United Kingdom's 100K Genome Project. Neither is among the initial HiSeq X Ten customers, although Illumina is partnered with the U.K. project and the 20,000-genome-a-year output fits nicely with its objective of sequencing 100,000 genomes over the next 5 years.

Illumina expects to see more and more of these factory-scale projects as researchers gather data to answer the big remaining questions of healthcare. "To figure out cancer, we need to sequence hundreds of thousands of cancer genomes, and this is the way to do it," Illumina CEO Jay Flatley told BusinessWeek. Sequencing on this scale will produce unprecedented amounts of data and--as Edinburgh Genomics' Mick Watson notes--making sense of it isn't included in the $1,000 price.

The unveiling of HiSeq X Ten was warmly received by analysts. In a research note titled "Not Just A Splash--A Cannonball," Wells Fargo analyst Tim Evans predicted that HiSeq X Ten "will secure Illumina's dominance in high-throughput for an extended period of time." Illumina shares rose more than 6% following the announcement. The stock is now trading at $121 a share, more than double what Roche ($RHHBY) offered when it tried to buy Illumina in 2012.

- read the BusinessWeek article
- check out Watson's take
- here's Forbes' coverage
- and MIT Technology Review's post