Wellcome Trust order helps Illumina blast past HiSeq X Ten sale forecasts

When Illumina ($ILMN) unveiled its $1,000 genome machine back in January, there were a few doubts about how many organizations had a big enough sequencing pipeline to justify buying the equipment. These doubts have since been swept aside, with a purchase by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute taking Illumina's order book up to 104 machines, almost double its original forecast.

The 104 HiSeq X Tens have been ordered by a diverse range of organizations, with academic centers sitting alongside CROs and sequencing-focused startups. So far Illumina has 9 HiSeq X Ten customers, and it expects to make additional sales this quarter. The first HiSeq X Tens are now in operation and reportedly working well, but the supply of new machines is being constrained by bottlenecks relating to two of the sequencer's parts. Even so, Illumina raised its overall sales growth forecasts on the back of HiSeq X Ten's strong start.

Illumina CEO Jay Flatley said the raise reflects the company's confidence in its ability to increase HiSeq X Ten production. Demand for the HiSeq X Ten beyond the initial batch is less clear. "I think a core question that's unanswered for us is how much this initial demand really represents sort of an initial bonus that will slow down or flatten out," Flatley told investors. Illumina has internally weighed up the merits of ending the requirement to buy 10 HiSeq X Tens, but is at least one year away from making any decisions. "We're just waiting to see how this market evolves," Flatley said.

The first few months of HiSeq X Ten sales have already shifted Illumina's perceptions. When Illumina expected to sell to a handful of top genomic centers, it assumed all of its customers would have full bioinformatics capabilities. Yet Illumina is now also dealing with companies that are less experienced and is tweaking its support offering accordingly.

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Special Report: 2014's most influential people in biopharma  - Jay Flatley- Illumina

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