BGI slams brakes on Revolocity rollout, lays off staff in business rethink

BGI has slammed the brakes on the rollout of the population-scale sequencing system that was set to offer an alternative to Illumina's ($ILMN) HiSeq X platform, GenomeWeb reports. The setback is part of a wider rejig at BGI's Complete Genomics subsidiary, which is firing a "substantial" number of staff, changing CEOs and retooling to become a BGISEQ-500-focused R&D shop.

The events represent a rapid and dramatic change of strategy. Mountain View, CA-based Complete Genomics released details of its $12 million Revolocity system in June, at which time it was pitching the product as a way for labs to achieve HiSeq X Ten-rivaling throughput without taking on some of the technical tasks associated with population-scale sequencing. To date, three organizations have ordered the system and had expected to receive the technology in the first half of next year. Complete Genomics now expects this timeline to be delayed and has stopped taking orders for Revolocity.

BGI and Complete Genomics have halted the rollout of Revolocity as part of a broader shift away from high-throughput sequencing and toward the clinical sequencing market. BGISEQ-500, the desktop sequencer introduced recently by BGI, is the centerpiece of the new strategy. The revamped Complete Genomics will be a R&D unit that supports BGISEQ-500 and other BGI products by helping develop clinical assays. Cancer panels, hereditary disease tests and a human papillomavirus assay are all in the pipeline.

The business model will work with fewer staff than the previous iteration of Complete Genomics. As such BGI is making "substantial" cuts at its Californian subsidiary, which employed 200 people when it was acquired by the Chinese sequencing giant in 2013. Cliff Reid is to resign as CEO of Complete Genomics, but is sticking around for now. Reid told GenomeWeb the reorganization is the result of an evaluation BGI carried out earlier this year after its own CEO stepped down. The process led the new management to conclude that Complete Genomics would work best as an R&D outpost of BGI.

Some outside observers see the events, particularly the setback to Revolocity, as evidence of how hard it is to even try to unseat Illumina from its dominant position. "The extreme complexities of melding physical, biological and data sciences is the reason it has been so difficult for companies to compete with Illumina's high-throughput innovations," Wells Fargo analyst Tim Evans wrote in a note to investors. "We think the Revolocity's demise supports that reasoning."

- read GenomeWeb's scoop (reg. req.)
- check out Bio-IT World's article
- and the Omics! Omics! take