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Pivoting to the Clinic

The number of human genomes sequenced in the world will probably double annually for the next couple of years, in part due to the continued growth in sequencing for research use, but also because the genome is now moving into the clinic, opines Francis deSouza, Illumina's president.

This year will see a record 228,000 human genomes sequenced, deSouza said at MIT Technology Review's EmTech conference. He expects to see a doubling of that number every 12 months or so through 2017, when an estimated 1.6 million people may have their genomes sequenced.

However, he is not so sure that the cost of sequencing a genome is going to keep plummeting, as it has for years now, far below the $1,000 level.

That price is probably OK for Illumina, he said, because the company is now trying to shift toward the clinical sector with the aim of making genomics studies and medicine far more common in hospitals and beyond.

"The bottleneck now is not the cost — it’s going from a sample to an answer…. People are saying the price is not the issue," he said.

DeSouza added that Illumina owes much of its success to the "hard pivot" it took in 2006 toward sequencing after it acquired Solexa. He said the company bet on "a technology with no sales, that no one knew if it would work."

Illumina's sequencers now account for 90 percent of all DNA data produced, and the firm sold $1.4 billion in equipment, chemicals, and tests last year.

"The big pivot now is to the clinic. Getting there will change everything that we do," deSouza said.