|Rob Morey of Complete Genomics (photo Noah Berger)|
The cost of determining a person’s complete genetic blueprint is about to plummet again — to $5,000.
That is the price that a start-up company called Complete Genomics says it will start charging next year for determining the sequence of the genetic code that makes up the DNA in one set of human chromosomes. The company is set to announce its plans on Monday.
Such a price would represent another step toward the long-sought goal of the “$1,000 genome.” At that price point it might become commonplace for people to obtain their entire DNA sequences, giving them information on what diseases they might be predisposed to or what drugs would work best for them.
“It’s a shockingly low price,” said George M. Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard who is an adviser to Complete Genomics and to several other sequencing companies.
Then again, the cost of DNA sequencing has dropped by a factor of 10 every year for the last four years, a faster rate of decline than even for computers, Dr. Church said.
DNA consists of a string of chemical units, usually represented by the letters A, C, G and T. The order in which those letters appear governs a person’s inherited traits. Sequencing involves determining that order. The human genome — the complete set of DNA — consists of about six billion letters, counting both members of each pair of chromosomes.
The first human genome sequence, completed by the federally financed Human Genome Project in 2003, is estimated to have cost a few hundred million dollars. Last year, the genome sequence of James D. Watson, a discoverer of the structure of DNA, was completed at a cost of about $1 million.
Today, the cost is about $100,000, said Chad Nusbaum, co-director of the genome sequencing and analysis program at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass.
Complete Genomics will not begin its service until the second quarter of next year. By then, the cost of competing technologies will no doubt have fallen further. Just last week, Applied Biosystems, a leading manufacturer, said it expected that its newest machine would allow a human genome to be sequenced for $10,000, although that includes only the cost of consumable materials, not labor or the machinery.
Knome, a company that offers to provide consumers with their DNA sequence, charges $350,000. But that is a retail price that includes not just the sequencing costs but also the analysis of the data and the customer service.
Complete Genomics will not offer a service to consumers. But it will provide sequencing for consumer-oriented companies like Knome.
Knome is already exploring farming out its sequencing to Complete Genomics. “We anticipate we’d be able to significantly drop our price,” said Jorge C. Conde, the chief executive of Knome, which is based in Cambridge, Mass.
But Complete Genomics expects most of its customers to be pharmaceutical companies or research laboratories that are doing studies aimed at finding genes linked to diseases. Such studies might look at the DNA of 1,000 people with a disease and 1,000 people without the disease.
Right now, such studies look at only particular locations in the DNA because it is too expensive to determine the entire DNA sequence. But presumably, an entire sequence would provide more complete information.
Pharmaceutical companies are also collecting DNA from participants in many clinical trials, hoping to find genetic patterns that could predict which patients will have the best response to a drug.
Complete Genomics, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., was started in 2006. But its sequencing technology has been under development by its chief science officer, Radoje Drmanac, since the 1990s — first at a federal laboratory and then at Hyseq, a genomics company that subsequently shifted to drug development and changed its name to Nuvelo.
Complete Genomics has raised $46 million in venture capital so far, including a small investment from Genentech, the biotechnology pioneer.
Complete Genomics’s sequencer does not work that much differently from rival machines. But company executives say that miniaturization allows their sequencer to use only tiny amounts of enzymes and other materials. Outsiders have not yet examined the accuracy of the company’s sequences.
Rather than selling machines, as most sequencing companies do, Complete Genomics will offer sequencing as a service. That also might help keep prices low because its machines do not have to look as pretty or be as foolproof as they would if they were being sold.
“We’re not losing money at $5,000,” said Clifford Reid, the chief executive of Complete Genomics.
The company’s first project will be for the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, whose president, Leroy Hood, is an adviser to Complete Genomics.
Mr. Reid said Complete Genomics hoped to perform 1,000 human genome sequences next year and 20,000 in 2010, with a goal of completing a million by 2013. That assumes the company can raise the money and find partners to build 10 sequencing centers at a cost of $50 million each. It also assumes there will be enough demand.
To put that in perspective, the number of human genomes sequenced to date by all parties combined is, at most, in the double digits. Knome, for instance, says it is on track to have 20 customers by the end of this year.
Volume, of course, could further drive down prices. “If we’ve got a million genomes sequenced by 2013,” Mr. Reid said, “it’s going to be very hard for anyone to compete with us.”
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always
been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such
material available in our efforts to advance understanding of
biotechnology and public policy issues. We believe this constitutes a
'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section
107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section
107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those
who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included
information for research and educational purposes. For more information
go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use
copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go
beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.