After 12 years at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, David Bentley has headed to Solexa as the sequencing company’s chief scientist. “The Solexa technology is coming of age,” Bentley says, and the move reflects his belief that the time is ripe for significant investment in genomic applications. Solexa, a player in the $1,000 genome competition, has a DNA sequencing system in alpha production and expects it to hit the market later this year. “The idea is to produce cheap, accurate, and precise technology,” Bentley says, and Solexa has made “excellent progress so far.”
The move to Solexa seems a natural progression of Bentley’s interest in sequencing technology and its applications to medicine and human genetics. Before joining the founding management team at Sanger, Bentley worked in the genetics department at Guy’s Hospital in London, where his projects included mapping chromosome 22 and mutations in the Factor IX gene on the X chromosome.
While at Sanger, Bentley became involved with Solexa after company founders Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman showed him pilot information on the single molecule sequencing technology. Impressed with the quality of the specific chemistry, along with the company’s planning and academic environment, Bentley agreed to serve on Solexa’s advisory board in 1998. Since then, he’s had a bird’s eye view to watch the technology and business plan evolve.
As chief scientist, Bentley’s remit is broad — he is responsible for establishing and maintaining collaborations with major research centers and interacting with funding organizations. Tony Smith, Solexa’s chief technical officer, says Bentley’s role is to facilitate external collaborations by drawing on his contacts and deep knowledge of the field, while driving the internal objective to generate high-caliber scientific data.
At present, Solexa is in the process of formalizing new collaborations with academic and commercial institutions, which will complement the company’s existing research partnerships with the European Bioinformatics Institute, Sanger, and Imperial College London.
Solexa is certainly not alone in the race to get efficient sequencing instruments to market, but Bentley seems unperturbed by this. “There’s always room for competition,” he says. “Competition is healthy.”
— Jennifer Crebs