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Startup Offers Comprehensive Personalized Genome Sequencing For a Hefty Price

This article has been updated to include comment from Knome CEO Jorge Conde.
NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – With the personal genomics market accelerating in recent weeks after three companies launched individual genotyping services for blue-plate prices, Cambridge, Mass.-based Knome raised the stakes by offering whole-genome sequencing direct to consumers – sort of.
Compared to offerings from Decode Genetics, 23andMe, and Navigenics, which offer genotyping and analysis services allowing individuals to learn some things about their unique genomes, including ancestries, traits, and disease-risk possibilities, Knome’s service offers a far greater amount of information, but it comes at a very steep price — $350,000 a pop.
Knome today said it will allow select customers a “historic opportunity” to be among the first to follow the trail blazed by J. Craig Venter and James Watson by offering whole-genome sequencing and specialized analysis services to around 20 individuals.
Once the sticker shock settles in, that price would appear to be a bargain compared to the $1 million it cost Baylor College of Medicine’s Human Genome Sequencing Center to sequence Watson’s genome.
Knome Co-Founder and Harvard University Genetics Professor George Church reminded the public in a statement that the first human genome cost around $3 billion. “Only very recently have costs come down to a level where it is now feasible for private citizens to be sequenced and analyzed,” said Church.
“We expect this revolution to quickly usher in a new era of personalized medicine,” he added.
The company said its sequencing efforts will allow for analysis of up to 2,000 common and rare conditions and over 20,000 genes. The entire service will include whole-genome sequencing and “comprehensive” analysis from geneticists, clinicians, and bioinformaticians, who “will also provide continued support and counseling.”
Knome CEO Jorge Conde confirmed in an interview yesterday with GenomeWeb Daily News that the firm plans to use next-generation sequencing technologies to “try to bring the price down,” but he would not be specific about what models of sequencers or other technologies the startup plans to use.

“We’re not wed to any one technology,” Conde said, explaining that the company’s mandate at the outset is to remain flexible enough to pursue a sort of ‘whatever works best’ strategy while trying to lower the cost.

“Given that we’re technology agnostic, we would like to see the price go as low as possible … while providing a high-quality sequence,” Conde added. “This is the biggest challenge today.”

Considering the recent smattering of new genotyping service offerings that all ring in under $3,000, how does Knome plan to market a service that costs as much as a Lamborghini or a vacation home? It will have to rely on well-heeled customers who want to be part of a pioneering effort, said Conde.

He said the firm’s early customers will “be among the first to know and the first to benefit from the latest advances in our rapidly developing understanding of the human genome.”

Differentiating whole-genome sequencing, which Conde calls the “Holy Grail” of the consumer genomics sphere, from the SNP genotyping offered by competitors, will be a critical step in making the sale.

Offering consumers a vaster set of data and the chance to update their knowledge as the daily tide of new genetic findings continues to wash in is the main difference, as Conde sees it.

“With a genotyping approach, you have to know in advance to ask the question,” he said. “We can query a number of different things and can continue to add to the list of things we’re looking for later on down the road.”

Knome did not say where its sequencing will be conducted or how it will select the first 20 customers.

Conde said the firm has already heard from interested parties, and the company has a page on its website for those curious to find out more.

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