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in a phone interview that “If CGI has a healthy factory, it could crank out 1000 genomes a month—a not insignificant number.” BGI will need that capacity and more. A reliable industry source told me that the Mayo Clinic deal is expected to require sequencing of 200,000 human genomes over the next five years. Too bad for CGI that they could not hang on long enough to do all that sequencing!
Become a clinical laboratory: This is perhaps the most important reason. CGI applied in July to the U.S. government to attain status as a CLIA lab. The decision, expected to be positive, should come in late 2012 or early 2013. The decision to buy CGI echoes the recent $50 million acquisition of former personal genomics company Navigenics by the second-largest sequencing manufacturer Life Technologies (NASDAQ LIFE). In its acquisition announcement, LifeTech declared that it will shut down the Navigenics consumer business while maintaining its CLIA lab. (Illumina has had a CLIA lab since 2009).
If sequencing goes clinical, BGI will be able to play sooner and better based on its pickup of CGI. Although BGI already has a U.S. sales presence, it has no way of serving clinical customers in the United States. If the CLIA lab designation comes through, then BGI will be able to sell clinical sequencing right away. One of the immediate drivers of the deal may have been Illumina’s predicted hesitancy (according to my industry sources) to sell clinical-rated instruments to BGI rather than research-only instruments once Illumina receives its expected 510(k) clearance from FDA.
There is also a cultural aspect. BGI has built a stellar reputation as a provider of genome sequence data. But it is not a U.S. company. By keeping CGI up and running as a U.S. subsidiary, BGI can—assuming that the deal goes through—sell its services more easily as it competes with U.S. players like Illumina and LifeTech.
The race for improved sequencing hardware will not slow down. But as this acquisition shows, the more interesting battlefield, at least for the healthcare field, is in the interpretation of clinically obtained genomic data. The same week that CGI was acquired, Foundation Medicine secured a $42.5 million financing (funded in part by major clinical diagnostics players Roche and Laboratory Corporation of America) to pursue forward-looking genomic medicine in oncology; and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center announced an up to $3 billion “Moon Shots” initiative to significantly improve cancer care outcomes, in part by paying closer attention to genomic data.
Clinical sequencing is coming, first in diagnosing especially pediatric diseases of unknown origin and in oncology, then later in gastrointestinal disease (gut microbes…), and perhaps even, much later, in population screening. It just (barely) did not arrive in time to make a success of Complete Genomics. I suspect that BGI and its patient investors will have a better chance.
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