A New Sequencer on the Horizon – Illumina Genomics Forum Days Two and Three Highlights

by Max Heirich
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“We are so close to achieving what once seemed impossible,” uttered Illumina CEO Francis deSouza, kicking off the second day of the Illumina Genomics Forum in San Diego, California. By far and away, the most significant thing to come out of the event was deSouza’s unveiling of Illumina’s brand new NovaSeq™ X Series Sequencers. The “most significant sequencing platform ever” sees massive improvements across all key areas, with the capability of sequencing 20,000 genomes per year. 

On the third day of the Illumina Genomics Forum, Francis deSouza sat down with Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, and Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), discussing the potential that collaborations can have in making the dreams of genomics a reality.

Related Article: Illumina Genomics Forum Kicks Off With A Conversation With President Barack Obama

The Expanded Potential of Genomic Sequencing

The announcement of the new sequencers began with Francis de Souza reminding everyone in the room of the strides made with genomic sequencing. “That was made possible by the NovaSeq 6000, our most successful sequencer… so far.”

Despite deSouza’s praise, he asserted that their work was far from over and underlined researchers’ need for “an insane amount of data” derived from groundbreaking technology. “Today, we deliver those technologies. We empower you to make the next breakthrough discoveries,” said deSouza just before launching the NovaSeq 6000 DX, the first FDA-regulated and CE-marked high throughput sequencer. 

“We’re going to close the gap on the remaining 5% genetic regions,” deSouza asserted before announcing Illumina Complete Long-Reads. Illumina’s new tech allows for Long-Read Capabilities free from compromise and without the need for a new platform. “It is a complete and accurate read of the genome at the single-molecule level.” 

However, the most significant announcement on Thursday was Illumina’s grand unveiling of the most significant sequencing platform ever: the NovaSeq X Series. “Today, we give you one more product… and this changes everything,” said deSouza. 

The new production-scale sequencers expand the boundaries of genomic medicine with faster, more powerful, and more sustainable sequencing. The two new sequencers, the NovaSeq X and NovaSeq X Plus. TheNovaSeq X Series sees a 90% reduction in packaging waste and weight each. In addition, there is a 50% reduction in plastic usage through the use of biodegradable materials. The power of the NovaSeq X Plus allows for the annual sequencing of 20,000 whole genomes at the cost of $200 a genome, exponentially expanding the accessibility to sequencing. 

After five years of development, the NovaSeq X Series will be available in late 2023. Alex Aravanis, head of Illumina R&D, concluded the panel with, “You can redefine and revolutionize what you can do with a sequencer. I am thrilled to imagine how you can discover more and dream bigger.” 

A Conversation About Collaboration

On the third day of the Illumina Genomic Forum, Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, sat down with Francis deSouza with Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, asking about their companies’ collaboration for the use of Genomics in patient care. 

After deSouza briefly introduced the two companies’ prior work, Illumina’s CEO described Witty’s wish to do something “so big it could be seen from space.” As a result, the formal collaboration between Illumina and Unitedhealth began, centered around the acceleration of finding or ruling out clinical treatments. 

Witty then expressed his frustration over the spending of “hundreds of millions of dollars a year on genetic and genomic testing” in efforts to find the right testing. A core reason for Witty’s drive for collaboration with Illumina was a conclusion that “It’s time to solve this; we’ve been at this for twenty years.”

Dr. McMurry-Heath summed up both CEOs’ statements as that their collaborative work might transfer the current reactive healthcare system in a more proactive one in the near future. In agreement, deSouza said, “Imagine a world where there are no five to seven-year diagnostic odysseys for people who have genetic diseases because they can get tested.” 

Overall, the collaboration between Illumina and United is a combination of long-term studies for genome sequencing predicting the course of a patient’s life and short-term studies such as tumor typing. 

When asked how things would be in five years with the achievement of the Illumina and United’s collaboration deSouza said, “I think the work we do will be foundational for getting the next billion people covered for genomic testing.” Witty concluded with, “I hope that, five years from now, we’re not talking about what genomics could do, we’re talking about what genomics is doing.”

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