The $1,000 Genome is Coming: How Will It Change the World?

5/21/09Follow @xconomy

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with all sorts of diverse genotypes, he argued, will give biologists a new window into these multi-factorial diseases that have stumped scientists for decades (he didn’t name names, but it made me think of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.)

“This will help us begin to understand correlations between genes gone wrong, and the cells that sustain motor neurons for life,” Irv Weissman said. “We can fix one gene at a time, and see if it fixes the problem.” Eventually, this will become so compelling that Big Pharma companies will get interested, the elder Weissman said.

Will scientists run into barriers with getting the general public to participate on a broad enough scale to learn anything valuable from the genome? To make this practical on a society-wide basis, it will have to come from pinpricks of blood, and scientists will have to extract all kinds of data from these tiny pinpricks, Hood said. That includes genetic makeup, how genes are turned on or off, how they are transcribed into RNA, and the resulting proteins. It’s a “trivial procedure” for people to get a pinprick, and scientists must better explain the benefits of it to get people to accept it, he said.

But who will create valuable, tangible products off this, Carl Weissman asked? Do consumer genetics companies like 23andMe, Navigenics and deCODEme have anything valuable to offer in the short-term? A couple people in the room argued about whether they even want to know the information about themselves, but I’m not sure this was the place to get a finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment.

“You can really find out a lot about where you came from” with the tests from these companies, Hood offered, although the ability to spot genetic warning signs that might modify a person’s behavior is pretty limited, he said.

“If you take 100 people, you’d be lucky if you found one who could change their lifestyle and improve their health” by taking the tests, Hood said. Then again, Hood said a friend of his who took one of these tests discovered he had a rare genetic abnormality that creates Vitamin D deficiency, and was able to take aggressive supplements that can ward off early osteoporosis. Yet, he added, “that’s really rare.” He said that he knew another person who had his genotype tested, as well as his wife’s and children’s, just to see what the children inherited from each parent. That could be the real business opportunity for some of the consumer genetics companies, he said. “These are largely vanity companies,” Hood said.

So who’s poised among Corporate America to take advantage of this shift toward greater knowledge of individual genomes? It’s unlikely Big Pharma will be first to pounce, Hood said. It’s more likely that major consumer brands, like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Procter & Gamble will find ways to capitalize on this first, because they are investing heavily in wellness, he said.

The real opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to seize is using genomic data to once and for all bring down the skyrocketing cost of drug development, and the abysmal one-in-10 success rate for drugs that enter clinical trials. Yet Hood says the pharmaceutical business still hasn’t really embraced the opportunity to develop niche drugs, with better success rates, through genomics.

Even so, he predicted the cost of drug development will come down dramatically from an estimated $1 billion per drug, once drug companies can accurately stratify who’s likely to benefit from an experimental drug, and who won’t, Hood said. The FDA will quickly approve a drug with a 95 percent chance of really helping a small pool of patients, rather than a mass-marketed cancer drug with a much lower probability of helping people, Hood said.

What will it take to ignite the drug-development revolution? Hood was asked. “Spectacular successes” would be one way, Hood said. Until then, … Next Page »

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  • Bob

    $1,000 genome = more expensive tests that we do not need… = lots of false positives (it is, after all, probabilistic).

    A better approach:
    keep older drugs, make them better by a $10 or a $1 genome test.

    Also, I remember a grand announcement from the late 70′s/early 80′s that the invention of the genome sequencer would change the world and drug development… It is 30 years later now…

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