Illumina CEO Jay Flatley on How to Keep an Edge in the Fast-Paced World of Gene Sequencing

4/6/10Follow @xconomy

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there are other ways to do sequencing. Huge amounts of money poured into the space. And the elasticity of the market became apparent, because of the potential price points. People said, ‘Wow, we’re going to be sequencing millions of people here, and millions of crops, and animals. It’s going to be an enormous market. And that’s what has fueled the money coming into the space.

X: What time frame do you think this really started happening?

JF: Maybe three years ago, or maybe a little earlier than that. Solexa was obviously the first one, but there were a couple of other ones coming along in parallel that didn’t quite make it. PacBio got funded about six years ago. Now you see a rush of people going into sequencing here in the last couple years, trying to get a toehold. Because the general view is that ‘the market will be so large, that even if I get 10 percent, I can be a very successful company, or I can sell myself to someone else and get a big return.’

X: Who do you consider your major competitors now?

JF: The primary one today is Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE). We think we’re way ahead. We’ve got about two-thirds of the market share, roughly, in next-gen sequencing. On the upstart side, [Mountain View, CA-based] Complete Genomics is probably trying to take part of the market that we think is ours. So there will be a lot of competition. I think there’s an emerging collection of companies at the low end now. We’ve been focused up until now on super high-throughput, cheapest, most number of bases possible.

This emerging segment is of low-capital access, faster turnaround, targeting diagnostic applications, with maybe a little bit longer [DNA] reads. It’s going to take over the other part of the existing market that our current systems don’t service. That’s where the Ion Torrents, and the Starlights [Life Technologies' new sequencer dubbed "Project Starlight"], and our Avantome product, which we haven’t launched yet. That’s going to play into this market segment.

X: Who among the crop of startups is doing exciting work, and how might that fit in strategically with what you guys are doing? I’ve written some about Oxford Nanopore, who I know you’ve invested in, but who else do you consider interesting?

JF: Obviously we think Oxford is the most interesting, because it’s the one we bet on [as part of a $28 million investment announced in February]. We think it’s the most elegant of all the solutions. It’s not passed its feasibility points yet, but we think it will be the cheapest and the fastest if it works … Next Page »

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