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Genomics in San Diego: From the Human Genome to a New Biotechnology Focus


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Tufts University, which facilitated larger scale and multiplex genome sequencing efforts. In 2006, Illumina acquired Solexa, bolstering their array products with whole genome sequencing technology. Their announcement offering personal human genome sequencing for less than $50K earlier this year shows their dedication in moving into the direct-to-consumer (DTC) genomics market.

I worked in a small informatics group in the early part of this decade at what’s now known as Life Technologies in Carlsbad, CA, and experienced the first “genomics wave” creating early web 2.0 tools. At that time, Invitrogen was known as a clear leader in molecular biology research tools, but the 2008 merger with Applied Biosystems (ABI) (the combined companies became Life Technologies), secured their place in the genomics hall of fame. ABI instruments were the workhorses of the human genome project, and Life Technologies continues to move strategically toward more patient-focused markets. Life’s acquisition of molecular diagnostics company Acrometrix, their relationship with Tgen, and the creation of the Genomic Care Alliance all point in this direction.

Does Life Technologies’ investment in Synthetic Genomics (SGI) fit this trend? Hard to say. Life CEO Greg Lucier hinted that the company plans to collaborate with SGI on research tools when he said, “Life Technologies … will be able to directly participate and lead in synthetic biology by offering the tools our customers need to accelerate discoveries in this emerging field.” But it’s hard to believe that Craig Venter and Greg Lucier don’t have bigger designs for using synthetic genomics to improve human health.

Of course, the genesis and inspiration for most of the companies that have influenced genomic progress in San Diego can be found at our outstanding universities and institutions. Technology and people from TSRI, UCSD, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, and others have all contributed greatly to the success of the companies in the region. These institutions also contribute by establishing translational research centers such as the Sanford Burnham Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network (MLPCN), the Scripps Translational Science Institute, and the UCSD Clinical and Translational Research Institute.

While sitting at Xconomy’s San Diego Life Sciences 2030 event earlier this year I felt as though a time machine had transported me back ten years. The panel indicated that one of the next big opportunities for our local industry would be bioinformatics startups. This sentiment partly fueled the biotech startup boom in the early 2000s. While great tools and advances resulted, I wouldn’t say many would consider it a big economic success for our region. Will this round of analyses prove more fruitful for human health, or are we back to the drawing board, with the only difference being that we have more data now? The fact that our local industry has found ways to reduce the complexity of the human genome, whether by enzyme family, single cell analysis, or by reconstructing life, bodes well for the region.

Editor’s note: Mary Canady has worked for Life Technologies, Accelrys and Sequenom, and has had business relationships with Fate Therapeutics and Illumina through the San Diego Biotechnology Network (SDBN). She was not compensated by these companies for this article, but received sponsorship fees from Accelrys and Illumina for next week’s SDBN event.

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