A record 228,000 human genomes will be completely sequenced this year by researchers around the globe, said Francis de Souza, president of Illumina, the maker of machines for DNA sequencing, during MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
De Souza said Illumina’s estimates suggest that the number will continue to double about every 12 months, reaching 1.6 million genomes by 2017, as the technology shifts from a phase of collapsing prices to expanding use in medicine.
The price of sequencing a single genome has dropped from the $3 billion spent by the original Human Genome Project 13 years ago to as little as $1,000, he said.
During an interview, De Souza questioned whether the price would keep falling at that rate. “It’s not clear you can get another order of magnitude out of this,” he said. Instead, he said, his company’s focus is now on making DNA studies more widespread in hospitals, police labs, and other industries.
“The bottleneck now is not the cost—it’s going from a sample to an answer,” De Souza said. “People are saying the price is not the issue.”
Illumina’s sequencing machines, which cost as much as $1 million each, are unmatched in their speed and accuracy. But the company’s growth has rested sometimes precariously on two curves. One has been the collapsing price of sequencing. The other is the soaring demand from genome scientists and funding agencies.
Illumina machines now accounting for more than 90 percent of all DNA data produced. Last year, Illumina sold $1.4 billion worth of equipment, chemicals, and tests, about 25 percent more than the year before.
Illumina has said it thinks the total market for high-speed DNA studies is about $20 billion a year, of which half is connected to studying the DNA of people fighting malignancies like melanoma, lung cancer, or brain tumors, the company estimates.