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experts in certain diseases, have never gotten training in bioinformatics, and need some help sifting through everything.
This bioinformatics story has been told by entrepreneurs many times over the past decade, and yet nobody has really come along and built a big business on making software for genomic analysis. Many scientists have opted for home-brew software programs designed for their specific task. Part of what’s different now is the sheer volume of the data, now that worldwide capacity for genome sequencing is skyrocketing. There frankly aren’t enough bioinformaticians to write those home-brew programs. Just as recently as a couple three years ago, there were fewer than a dozen human genomes sequenced worldwide. In 2011, scientists have begun speculating whether there’s now capacity to sequence tens of thousands of genomes this year alone.
Knome still offers the personal genome analysis service for wealthy individuals, but Conde sought to downplay it when we spoke, saying the service to researchers is where the growth will be. “For us to see [the consumer] market explode, it’s going to require one of two things. Some form of reimbursement. Or the cost will have to fall below $5,000, probably below $2,000 to get a lot of consumers interested.”
Scientists out there are probably wondering, ‘So can you actually learn anything useful from what they’re selling.” Conde pointed to one recent paper from scientists at the University of British Columbia who used the Knome service to help uncover some new insights into a stretch of the genome that may have something to do with inherited cases of Parkinson’s disease.
Nobody can really say with a straight face how big the market might be for interpreting all this genomic data. Conde didn’t offer up a figure when I asked, but it undoubtedly has potential to be a lot bigger than the few million that investors have pumped in so far.
“If we can help pharmaceutical companies make clinical decisions, a lot of value can be brought to bear there,” Conde says. “Working with academic researchers is a smaller market, but still attractive.” The end game, he says, will be medical applications built on better understanding of the genome. But don’t hold your breath. “That’s a few years away,” Conde says.
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