Illumina CEO Jay Flatley on the Future of Genomics, Part 2
Yesterday, we ran the first installment of a wide-ranging interview with Illumina CEO Jay Flatley. He talked a bit about some of the major competitors he sees emerging in the fast-paced world of gene sequencing, and how he hopes San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) can maintain an innovative edge, even as it grows into a big company with about 1,800 employees.
Today, we offer up the second half of the conversation.
Xconomy: In terms of being in San Diego, you’ve got Illumina, and you’ve got some critical mass with your competitor here in Life Technologies in sequencing. You’ve also got wireless talent here with Qualcomm. How do you see the genomic instrument capabilities converging over time with wireless technology in a way that’s useful for a healthcare system moving more toward wellness?
Jay Flatley: It’s absolutely going to happen. It’s already starting to happen. Our instruments increasingly will be spitting out their data over wireless networks. We already have the ability to monitor and control our HiSeq product from an iPhone application. Our customers can sit in their living room and monitor the quality scores coming off their HiSeqs. From a management of the instrumentation perspective, that’s already happening.
We’ve built a prototype iPhone application that is sort of a delivery vehicle of how someone could carry genomic information and communicate and interact wirelessly. That could be with your physician. It could be over social networks. It could be in a bar. I think wireless is the way it’s going to go. The data will be in the cloud, and it will be moved around wirelessly.
X: But your bread and butter business is still going to be selling those instruments, which are an expensive piece of equipment. How much bigger do you see this market getting in unit volume, or maybe becoming more democratized as the price of sequencing comes down and more researchers can do it?
JF: Our goal is to make this as ubiquitous as PCR [polymerase chain reaction], and I think that’s where it’s headed. Sequencing will become such a fundamental tool of molecular biology research that every lab that’s serious in the field will have to have access to next-gen sequencing one way or another. Either in their lab or the lab next door. The footprint of the instruments is going to shrink. Usability will get better. Sample prep is going to get simpler. We’re probably less than 10 years from the day when a drop of blood gets put in and the sequence comes out 10 minutes later. That’s the way it’s going to be. We think all babies are going to get sequenced in 10 years, that will be a routine way you do post-birth characterization. The data set will go into an electronic medical record. There will be some filtered masks over that data set that allow different constituents to access it under certain privacy controls for different reasons. You may need to authorize your physician to look at parts of it, you may want them to look at all of it. But I think that’s where the technology will head.
X: It’s interesting that you brought up privacy. I was meaning to ask whether there are any policy changes that you think need to happen before people can become comfortable enough with this idea to really participate in a big, broad way?
JF: The GINA [Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008] bill went a long way. It set a framework for preventing discrimination based on genetic information. What’s going to have to happen is there will have to be some test cases. How does that look when it’s applied and executed? No doubt we’ll see some test cases there in the next five years. But the thinking is moving … Next Page »