Ultima Genomics Promises $100 Genome After Raising $600 Million
The California-based startup, Ultima Genomics, announced on May 31 that it is closer than ever to providing a low-cost, $100 genome after it came out of stealth funding with $600 million. Ultima is partnering with Sentieon, a bioinformatics developer, and Google DeepVariant, which uses deep learning to identify genetic variants in sequencing data to accelerate variant calling at larger scales. Ultima’s goal is to provide more cost-effective ways to aid in individualized diagnostics and disease risk predictions with its UG 100.
Revolutionizing Genetic Sequencing
Over the last several decades, the science community has made massive advancements in genetic sequencing with accomplishments like The Human Genome Project and the 1000 Genomes Project. Still, individualized genetic sequencing remains out of reach for most people because of the astronomical costs associated with the process. However, because there is an increased rate of genetic sequencing and understanding of the technology, the costs rapidly decrease while efficiency is rising.
According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, a human genome in 2001 could have cost as much as $100 million. Since then, the price has consistently dropped but is still high and varies between $400 and $1,000. At these prices, genetic sequencing for individualized medical care is still not a viable option for most people.
In a rapidly evolving landscape, Ultima is racing with competitors to provide the cheapest option on the market while remaining efficient and accurate. The current market leader, Illumina’s NovaSeq product line, can sequence the WGS (whole genome sequence) for between $750 and $2,000 depending on the size of the sequence. Even with drastic drops in sequencing costs, lowering the cost to $100 could open up a world of opportunities to push genetic sequencing to the next level.
Ultima Genetics’ UG 100 project aims to solve this predicament and open up the world to large-scale, low-cost genetic sequencing to aid in drug discovery, disease risk prediction, and any number of other assets that are rapidly being developed throughout the industry. Ultima says its new genetic sequencing architecture will be available for $1/Gb. Ultima CEO Gilad Almogy says that $100 is only the starting point and that the company hopes to develop even cheaper versions in the future.
One of the cost-saving measures is the mechanical process of preparing DNA to be analyzed. Ultima’s novel approach spreads the reagent on a circular disc etched with an array of electrostatic landing pads and spins the disc to evenly distribute the reagent. This process also allows for the sequence to be read while the disc is spinning much like a CD. Ultima’s procedure saves time and can be mass-produced resulting in a cheaper product.
Chief Scientific Officer of Ultima, Doron Lipson, said, “Scientists and clinicians continuously make tradeoffs between the breadth, depth, and frequency of genomic information they collect. By overcoming the limitations of conventional next-generation sequencing technologies, researchers can now design experiments and clinical assays that were previously impossible.”
Using Machine Learning to Overcome Sequencing Hurdles
Humans continue to evolve and in turn, so do our genomes and the 10’s of trillions of cells that contain precious data. With an ever-changing number of factors involved in genetic sequencing, Ultima is partnering with Google DeepVariant and Sentieon to provide customers with more efficient ways to process and analyze sequencing data.
Google DeepVariant is an open-source platform that identifies genetic variances when presented with sequencing data. Released in 2017, DeepVariant first used Illumina instruments to generate sequence data and expanded to use data from other companies like Pacific Biosciences and Oxford Nanopore. Now, Ultima will throw its hat into the DeepVariant ring to provide an even broader set of data to analyze.
Alongside the DeepVariant partnership, Ultima is working with Sentieon to increase the scale of high-volume sequencing. Since its inception, Sentieon has processed nearly 1.5 billion terabytes of data and hopes to leverage UG 100 to improve sequencing quality.
With the help of machine learning and novel technology architecture, Ultima will have a better shot at spearheading a shift in genetic sequencing. Once UG 100 grows out of its early access program and is accessible to the general public, the potential for individualized genetic sequencing could provide a new landscape for human genome analysis.
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