Complete Genomics Zeroes in on Tricks of Cancer Genome With Sequencing Service

12/9/10Follow @xconomy

Cancer cells pull many dirty tricks to resist therapy and stump researchers. One is a madcap reshuffling of the 3 billion letters of DNA that make up the genome found in healthy human cells. But now that genome sequencing has become so cheap and fast, Mountain View, CA-based Complete Genomics is trying to enter a new market that would have been impossibly expensive a couple years ago: It is now seeking to help scientists pinpoint what’s different in the complete genome of a tumor, compared to a healthy cell.

Complete Genomics (NASDAQ: GNOM)—the sequencing company backed in its early days by San Diego’s Enterprise Partners Venture Capital and OVP Venture Partners in Kirkland, WA—is announcing today it is amping up its efforts to sequence entire human genomes as a service to cancer researchers. In addition to its sequencing service, the company plans to run basic computational analysis for all the copy number variations, and structural variations that pop up in tumors gone wild. This is essentially an extra computational feature that Complete Genomics is throwing in, at no extra cost, to its basic $10,000-per-genome sequencing service.

The idea in the beginning, CEO Cliff Reid says, is to save researchers the time and hassle of performing their own sequencing runs, and then looking around for proprietary or open-source software to help interpret that mother lode of data.

“This gives researchers a new avenue for understanding the genetic causes of cancer,” Reid says.

This strategic push into cancer is the first peep of news out of Complete Genomics since the company nailed down its initial public offering last month. Complete raised $54 million in that deal to move forward with its quest to become one of the leaders in the fiercely competitive field of super-cheap, super-fast DNA sequencing. The current market leaders—San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) and Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE)—have been built on business models in which they sell sophisticated instruments to researchers, plus chemical reagents to operate them. A highly-touted new entrant, Menlo Park, CA-based Pacific Biosciences (NASDAQ: PACB) is following a similarly proven business model, with a different technology that seeks to raise the bar on speed, and lower it even further on cost.

Cliff Reid

Cliff Reid

Complete is taking a clearly different approach in its business model. Instead of following the razor/razor blade model, it hopes to achieve super low cost and high efficiency by asking researchers to ship samples to its centralized lab where the sequencing and basic computing work gets done. This new business model for sequencing “is a change the industry is still digesting,” Reid says.

Part of what Complete is betting on here is that biologists will essentially want to farm out the heavy computational lifting that it takes to detect signals in datasets with 3 billion data points. Before Complete started offering this service commercially over the summer, the only alternative for researchers who wanted to look at variations in tumor genomes was to do the sequencing runs on an instrument, and either write their own software, or look around for a proprietary or open-source software program to help separate the signal from the noise, Reid says.

This is especially hard to do with cancer, Reid says, offering some basic science to help explain. Most healthy cells have two functioning copies of the genome. Sometimes they get deleted or possibly amplified five, 10, or 20 times over in tumors, through … Next Page »

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