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OVP, Enterprise Partners See Big Opportunity in $5,000 Human Genome Sequencing

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gene sequencing. Back in 1991, when many scientists were skeptical the full human genome could ever be sequenced, Congress was told it would cost $3 billion to sequence the human genome and it would be done by 2005. It was actually done by 2003, at a cost of $2.7 billion, according to the National Institutes of Health. Five years later, thanks to big improvements in sequencing technology, it can now generally be done for about $100,000, depending on how you account for the expense of labor to run the machines, Waite says. Even at that high degree of efficiency, only a couple dozen human genomes have been fully sequenced, according to this report in the New York Times.

Complete Genomics hasn’t published its methods in a top peer-reviewed journal like Science or Nature, although it has double-checked its machine for accuracy against competitors internally, and plans to publish the work soon, Waite says. The paper hasn’t come out yet, so the following comes with a grain of salt, but the company says it achieves its lower costs by using much less of chemical reagents than existing tools. It also uses ultra high-density DNA tests that can be read with commercial imaging equipment that keeps those costs down.

The company will need that validation to convince scientists and others that they are getting their money’s worth by getting sequences done at Complete Genomics. Before the paper comes out, though, the company hopes to receive some validation already from two very prominent early partners—the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, and Genentech, the biotech industry’s No. 1 company by market value.

Complete Genomics’ partnership with the ISB is expected to sequence 100 individual genomes in 2009, and 2,000 more in 2010. The new low-cost tool “will allow us to gain a more complete understanding of the genetic components and molecular processes of diseases in order to better manage, treat and prevent human disease and better understand human health,” Hood said in a statement.

Waite and Senyei invested together in Seattle-based Corixa back in the 1990s, so it was natural that they would go in together on Complete Genomics, Waite says. Both OVP and Enterprise Partners have participated in all three rounds of funding in Complete Genomics, while Prospect Venture Partners led the second round and Highland Capital Management led the third, according to DowJones VentureSource data that my colleague in San Diego, Bruce Bigelow, found. The company has raised about $46.5 million since its founding, and has 100 employees.

People have been talking about the dream of the $1,000 genome, so I asked Waite how low can this sequencing really go. “We think it can go lower, but we’re not really going to talk about that,” Waite says. “But this is really exciting on many levels.”

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