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Complete Genomics Nears Commercial Launch; Eyes Thousands of Genomes in 2010

This article has been updated from a previous version to include additional comments from Cliff Reid regarding the expected cost of Complete's services.

By Edward Winnick

SAN FRANCISCO (GenomeWeb News) - Complete Genomics is on the cusp of launching its commercial operations and is aiming to sequence several thousand human genomes this year — and potentially up to a million human genomes over the next five years — company officials told investors Wednesday at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference.

Complete Genomics' market debut has been highly anticipated, since the firm came out of stealth mode just last year. Unlike other DNA sequencing firms, Complete Genomics is built entirely on a service model, and the firm is promising low-cost, rapid, and highly accurate results using its proprietary technology.

Cliff Reid, Complete Genomics' President and CEO, told GenomeWeb Daily News in an interview this week that the firm is in the process of deploying its first commercial-grade instruments — 16 of them. He expects the company will have full capabilities to service customers by April 1.

The technology underlying Complete Genomics' services was exclusively licensed from Hyseq, a company co-founded by Complete Genomics CSO Rade Drmanac, in 2006. It utilizes a nanoarray human genome sequencing method — an approach that uses combinatorial probe anchor ligation chemistry in conjunction with nanoarrays that cause the DNA to assemble into so-called nanoballs. The nanoballs are run across a grid of 3 billion "sticky spots" that keep the bits of DNA close together, enabling high-throughput sequencing with low reagent use, and greatly reducing the cost and time of imaging, Reid said.

The firm is unique in the DNA sequencing space in that it is focused purely on providing human sequencing services. It won't sell any instruments, and it won't sequence any other kinds of organisms.

"All of our biochemistry and DNA engineering is designed with the knowledge that the target is a human genome," Reid told GWDN. "We don't do any new organisms. In fact, we don't even sequence. We resequence," he said.

"We have a reference to work from every single time, so we don't need long reads to overcome unexpected things," said Reid. "And short reads are more accurate."

The company published a paper in November describing how it sequenced three human genomes to between 40- and 87-fold coverage at consumables costs between $1,700 and $8,000 per genome. Reid told investors at the conference that the price has shrunk even further since then.

In addition to enabling customers to complete sequencing projects without having to buy instruments and reagents and put the time into the analysis, Complete Genomics automatically does the analysis and provides the customer with a report of the results.

Regarding the potential cost of its services, Reid told GWDN that "small projects" start at $20,000 per genome, with "significant discounts for large projects on a case-by-case basis."

Reid also noted that the firm offers the most accurate DNA sequencing technology available.

Complete Genomics spent 2009 further developing the technology and working on small pilot projects for customers. The firm is now switching to its new commercial-grade systems, which Reid said are much faster. He said the old instruments sequenced a genome in a month, whereas the new machines can do a whole genome in one day, though he noted that the systems actually sequence 12 genomes in parallel over 12 days.

Complete Genomics currently has 20 customers, all of which started out doing pilot projects with the firm. Among those customers are the Institute for Systems Biology, which has ordered 100 more genomes.

The company has built its service center at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. But it has plans to replicate the center with 10 others positioned in various countries around the world.

Reid speculated that the firm could sequence a total of one million genomes over the next five years through all of its planned centers.

Complete Genomics had hoped to sequence 10,000 genomes this year, but Reid said the final number would likely fall short of that total, given the April start time.

Reid said that the firm's primary reason for presenting at JP Morgan was to introduce itself to the broader financial community. "We're almost unknown to a lot of people," he told GWDN.

"If there is an IPO market, and it looks like there is an opportunity for us to acquire capital to finance growth, then we would love to do that," Reid said. "If there is a good IPO market, and the company is executing ... I think we'd be an excellent IPO candidate."

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