How and why the Institute of Cancer Research are using their new Illumina NovaSeq

Image credit: The Institute of Cancer Research, London

Image credit: The Institute of Cancer Research, London

Yesterday, the The Institute of Cancer Researchdisclaimer: that's where I work — published a new blog post where they spoke to Nik Matthews, Genomics Manager in the ICR’s Tumour Profiling Unit, about the Illumina NovaSeq sequencing platform.

It's a little more technical than some of the ICR 'Science Talk' blog posts that we usually publish which is why I thought I'd link to it here.

As someone who was started their PhD around the time the yeast genome was being finished I still am shocked by how far the world of DNA sequencing has come. This is something Nik refers to in his opening answer:

We can now produce data equivalent to the size of the original human genome project every six minutes, which is astonishing.

By comparison, the yeast genome project — an international collaboration involving many different labs — took over five years to sequence its genome…all 12 Mbp of it! Read the full blog post to find out more about how, and why, the ICR adopted the NovaSeq platform:

Illumina's new NovaSeq platform unveiled at The Institute of Cancer Research, London

Dr Nik Matthews, Genomics Manager in the ICR's Tumour Profiling Unit. Credit: ICR

Dr Nik Matthews, Genomics Manager in the ICR's Tumour Profiling Unit. Credit: ICR

It feels a bit strange to be using this blog to link to a news post at my current employer, but I'm happy to share the news that the ICR has become the first organisation in the UK to deploy Illumina's NovaSeq platform.

The ICR's Dr Chris Lord, Deputy Director of the Breast Cancer Now Research Centre, had this to say:

One key area we are keen to use the NovaSeq sequencer for is to discover new ways to select the best available treatment for each individual cancer patient’s specific disease.

If we can do this, we should be able to improve how a significant number of patients are treated. With the NovaSeq system, this kind of work is now feasible – this will be a real game-changer for a lot of the work across the ICR.

Read more in the full news article on the ICR website:

Front Line Genomics interview with Illumina CEO Jay Flatley includes a question from me

Issue 5 of the Front Line Genomics magazine is now online (in PDF format). The latest issue includes a fascinating interview with Jay Flatley, CEO of a little sequencing company you may have heard of (Illumina).

Continuing their trend of allowing former interviewees to ask questions, I was lucky enough to have one of my questions chosen for the interview. Here is my (somewhat lengthy) question along with Jay's response:

KB: When Apple introduced the original iPod in 2001, it was an expensive luxury ($400) that went on to change an entire industry. Remarkably, by 2006 the iPod product line was Apple’s largest source of revenue. Today, you can buy a cheap iPod knock-off for less than $20 and iPods now account for <1% data-preserve-html-node="true" of Apple’s revenue. Smart phones have made dedicated music players largely irrelevant.

So here’s my question...is the Illumina of 2015 like the Apple of 2006? What does Illumina do when, in five to ten years’ time, everyone will be getting his or her genomes sequenced and analyzed in an automated manner for less than $100? If the HiSeq platform is Illumina’s iPod, what’s going to be your iPhone?


JF: That’s a great question! We certainly do believe in the 5-10 year time frame that the ability to sequence a genome will be available to everyone because the economics will be there and the clinical utility will be there. That will be an enormous market opportunity.

The first thing I would say is, unlike the iPod which became a commodity because the actual technology could be replicated by other companies – especially the physical interface, the headphone jack and storage inside the iPod. Sequencing is quite challenging by comparison. It requires the intersection of a dramatically larger number of technologies which all have to work together in quite a complicated and sophisticated way. Having said that, we think that our sequencers need to become easier to use, need to become faster, need to become cheaper.

These are all things we’re working on. We obviously can’t layout ourroadmap for people today, but there will be technologies beyond the HiSeq, and those technologies will ultimately enable people to sequence their genomes at much lower prices than $1,000. The trick for Illumina, of course, is to be the company that introduces that technology, and brings the equivalent of the iPhone that largely replaced the iPod to market and that we don’t let someone else do that before we do it.

The full interview starts on page 20 of the PDF, and you can access previous issues of Front Line Genomics magazine here.