Last week’s JP Morgan Healthcare Conference was the usual biotech extravaganza, filling downtown San Francisco with so many analysts and investors you could mistake it for Wall Street. The great thing about this event is that it serves as a platform for all of the presenting companies to lay out their plans for the new year — giving the rest of us guidance about what to expect.
Illumina, for example, announced its acquisition of Stanford spinout Moleculo, which has developed a way to generate multi-kilobase reads from sequencing-by-synthesis technologies. With Moleculo’s IP, Illumina will likely have users producing very long sequence reads in the first half of this year, though currently most existing assemblers and other sequence analysis algorithms have been optimized for much shorter reads. If this long-read technology performs as advertised, we anticipate a flurry of activity as developers tweak their aligners and assemblers to make the most of these multi-kilobase reads.
In applied markets, Illumina acquired prenatal testing firm Verinata Health, and Life Technologies announced the formation of Claritas Genomics, a joint venture with Boston Children’s Hospital to develop diagnostics for the Ion Torrent sequencing platform. With these moves, both companies continue their march on the clinical market — giving us even more certainty about the need for sequence analysis and interpretation tools that will fit the requirements of users in clinical labs. These downstream users will be best served with simple but highly customized tools that match their specific environment, tasks, confidentiality mandates, and other attributes.
In general trends, the focus on big data was inescapable at JP Morgan, and served as a particular highlight of a breakfast panel hosted by FierceBiotech. No longer just the concern of chief information officers, big data is seen as equal parts opportunity and pitfall in the biomedical and healthcare field. Lon Cardon from GlaxoSmithKline encouraged people to think of it as good science rather than just “big data.” Meanwhile, John Reynders from AstraZeneca noted that the value of big data lies in the human element — that is, how we query it and what we’re looking for.
Back at DNAnexus headquarters, where we’re putting the finishing touches on our new platform to enable people to make the most of big data, the observations from JP Morgan offer nice validation of the path we’ve been planning. Our new platform has been designed for flexibility, giving users control over which algorithms best fit their data — whether those data sets are small or large in size, based on short-read or long-read sequence, and more. And with the growing use of sequencing in the clinical realm, we have worked hard to make sure the new platform will be a good fit for users who must comply with HIPAA and other regulatory requirements. Check back with us often, and we’ll keep you posted as we get the new platform ready for its debut!