In 2003, the Human Genome Project was considered completed. This international project was a collaborative, all hands-on deck research project. The first draft had 3 billion base pairs and about 90% of the entire genome completed. The completion of the Human Genome Project sparked a genetic revolution and redefined the diagnostic and tool space. Since then, the project has paved the way for many next-gen sequencing companies and an increased incorporation of artificial intelligence in diagnostic and tools companies.
One of the first names that comes to mind is 23andMe, which launched their autosomal DNA test kit that gives insight into one’s ancestry. They have more than 10 million customers who have each taken a saliva-based test that is then sent to 23andMe’s labs. 23andMe technicians focus on 700,000 different locations or 6 billion DNA base pairs of code that allow them to identify the customer’s genetic differences and basic information. 23andMe is a pioneer and has shown the life science industry that not only can you be a successful diagnostic and analytics company, but you can attract high-value private investment. Since the creation of the test, they have raised a total of $491 million to date (their last round led by Sequoia Capital) and were valued at $1.75 billion. When 23andMe information was used to catch the Golden State Killer, theyproved tothe public the power of genetic sequencing.
Illumina manufacturers DNA sequencers and has been named “the Google of genetic testing” by Wired Magazine. They sell high-throughput DNA sequencing systems that are not only the best, but also and cheapest. They have reduced the cost of sequencing the human genome from $1 million in 2007 to $100. They are launching their most recent machine NovaSeq, which can “sequence as many as 48 entire human genomes in two and a half days.” To put this into perspective, a little over 10 years ago, the Human Genome project cost $2.7 billion, 15 years, and multiple universities and researchers in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and China to sequence 1 genome. Today, Illumina has a near monopoly in DNA sequencing, as they perform 90% of it.
Illumina has also created its own accelerator that is currently recruiting their 10th class. The accelerator welcomes genomics driven startups and provides, coaching, lab space, sequencing resources, and helps startups generate data. The companies can be using genetic data to create “therapeutics, diagnostics, agriculture, synthetic biology, forensics and direct-to-consumer applications.”
Helix, a spin-off of Illumina, has created an app store for your DNA. Their goal is to unlock information that impacts your daily life. Their model is similar to 23andMe. You order the Helix DNA kit on their Helix store. You provide a small saliva sample that is then mailed to Helix and is sequenced. You are then given access to their Helix store, where you can choose from different categories such as ancestry, health, wellness, and entertainment. Each category provides different information and insights into many facets of your life. Ontheir website, some optionsthat standout arepersonal health tests, food sensitivities, exercise response, caffeine, and sleep. These tests provide data that either support or reject the intuition people typically have, for example “how many hours of sleep are ideal for my body” or “I think I have a sensitivity to gluten.” Their most recent test highlights your risk of diseases such as colon cancer, high cholesterol, and breast cancer. The test is considered more comprehensive, more convenient, and more responsible than competitor 23andMe.
According to CBInsights, there is growing interest and capital being directed toward the genomics space. In 2018, genomics and sequencing companies accounting for 11% of the total digital health dollars raised. As we look to the future, there are a lot new and exciting companies being started.