Genomics: blue sky science to commodity in 15 years


The chart is from an article in Nature. But the source is NHGRI. It illustrates that between 2008 and 2012 genomics as a field crushed Moore’s law. Then there was a leveling off between 2012 and the middle of 2015. Illumina had a quasi-monopoly for that period and sequencing costs did not decrease too much. But something changed in the past year. As you can see it’s as if we’re back in 2008, or at least we see hints of the beginning of another major crash. I assume part of this is that Oxford Nanopore is finally starting to present a possible future of a disruption of Illumina’s dominance. Though that’s still a very speculative possibility.

But second, Illumina itself sees sequencing as a commodity service, and is pushing the price point down to get more data out there. Sort of like IBM transitioned from being a company that sold you big metal boxes, to a company where big metal boxes were part of an ecology of services that you purchased, Illumina is imagining a future where the sequence is just the first step, and not a very remunerative one at that.

To take a step back, we’ve gone from the 1990s, where the human genome cost about $3 billion dollars to sequence, to today where small firms like Full Genomes are pushing $1,450 high quality whole genomes to consumers. Veritas is gone even lower, though it seems that they’re limiting the supply right now.

It’s easy to be pessimistic. But there is reason for optimism about the power of technology.

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