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Illumina Service Group Books Orders for 1,000 Human Genomes; Plans to Offer Rare-Cell Analysis this Spring


By Julia Karow

This article was originally published Jan. 12.

Illumina's human genome sequencing services group has about 1,000 genomes on order, including one order for several hundred genomes from a "major pharmaceutical company," according to a company executive. In addition, Illumina plans to introduce a rare-cell capture and sequencing service this spring for analyzing circulating tumor cells and fetal cells.

Last July, Illumina introduced a human genome sequencing service through its own facility and a group of Illumina service providers called the Illumina Genome Network (IS 3/8/2010).

The network currently includes the National Center for Genome Resources in Santa Fe, NM, and Macrogen in partnership with the Genomic Medicine Institute at Seoul National University.

At the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco last week, Illumina CEO Jay Flatley said that the company has accumulated an order backlog of about 1,000 genomes since the service was launched, from a mix of industry, academic, and pharmaceutical customers. One recent order in particular for several hundred genomes came from an unnamed "major pharmaceutical company," Flatley said. He did not mention how many, if any, genomes the service has already returned to customers.

Illumina is able to quickly respond to customer demand for whole-genome sequencing, he said. "We have the ability to rapidly scale this because we make HiSeqs, and we can divert HiSeqs off the production line as required to put into this services operation."

But whole-genome sequencing is only part of what Illumina offers through its FastTrack sequencing service business, Flatley said, which it acquired with Solexa in 2007. Other services include RNA sequencing, whole-exome sequencing, and methylation sequencing, "virtually across any organism."

This spring, Illumina plans to add a new, proprietary technology to capture rare cells to its service. The technology, which Illumina developed in house, "has performed extremely well in our hands," Flatley said, adding that it has beta-tested it with four external customers so far.

Customers will be able to send Illumina samples, and the company will extract rare cells and sequence their RNA or DNA. Applications will include the capture of circulating tumor cells for detection and monitoring, "and also, potentially, fetal diagnostics," Flatley said.


For human whole-genome sequencing services, Illumina is competing in the marketplace with Complete Genomics, which exclusively focuses on this application and runs a proprietary sequencing technology, and with service providers that are also its customers, such as China's BGI.

Complete Genomics, for example, had an order backlog of more than 1,000 genomes at the end of 2010 (see other article, this issue)and said last week that the Institute of Systems Biology has placed an additional order for more than 600 human genomes (IS 1/11/2011). Like Illumina, Complete Genomics counts big pharma among its customers, including Pfizer and Eli Lilly, although it has not disclosed any large orders from these firms.

BGI and Merck signed a "statement of intent" to collaborate in genome sequencing and pharmaceutical sequencing last year (IS 9/21/2010), but have not disclosed details about any projects.

In the area of rare cell capture, Illumina is also competing with several others who have been developing similar techniques. For example, earlier this month, Veridex and Massachusetts General Hospital said they are collaborating to develop a technology for capturing, counting, and characterizing circulating tumor cells in patient blood (GWDN 1/3/2011).

Have topics you'd like to see covered in In Sequence? Email the editor at jkarow [at] genomeweb [.] com.