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The One to Beat

Matthew Herper at Forbes lays the credit for the growth of Illumina and next-generation sequencing at the feet of Jay Flatley, the company's chief executive officer. Since 2008, under Flatley's guidance, Illumina's sales have increased nearly 150 percent to $1.42 billion, Herper says, while its stock has shot up some 617 percent.

Flatley, though, isn't looking for a scientific breakthrough, but a product he can bring to market quickly, Herper says.

"The Illumina story isn't one of a fundamentally better idea or a eureka moment no one else had," he adds. "Instead, it's a story of dogged, near-perfect execution that traces back entirely to the tone set by CEO Flatley, a Stanford-trained industrial engineer."

Illumina started out offering genotyping services and moved on by buying Solexa and quickly became the dominant player in the sequencing space, fighting off acquisition offers from Roche. And, Herper notes, the firm is now pushing into new fields, especially oncology and prenatal testing.

At the same time, there are other companies waiting to make their move to carve out space in the field, including Oxford Nanopore with its promise of a sequencer the size of a flash drive.

"But Flatley is confident that Illumina's footprint, which includes not just machines but also the software to handle genomic data, will make the company hard to unseat," Herper notes.