The world’s largest genome project will be carried out on instruments from the California sequencing company.
The British government says that it plans to hire the U.S. gene-sequencing company Illumina to sequence 100,000 human genomes in what is the largest national project to decode the DNA of a populace.
In a regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Illumina said it had been picked as the “preferred partner” for the £100 million project.
Genomics England confirmed that it had chosen the California company to carry out the sequencing project. “We’ve been through the ‘bake-off’ process to find the right company to do the sequencing, and will now be entering detailed negotiations,” says Vivienne Parry, a spokesperson for Genomics England. One in 17 people are born with or will develop a rare disease in their lifetime, with 80 percent of rare diseases having an identified genetic component. By sequencing 100,000 genomes, the project’s other aims are to kickstart the development of a U.K. genomics industry and introduce the technology into its mainstream health system, according to the Genomics England website.
Illumina’s sequencing instruments dominate the market for unraveling DNA (see “50 Smartest Companies”). Parry says fewer than five other companies bid for the job, one of the largest sequencing projects ever undertaken.
Some other countries are also considering large national sequencing projects. The U.K. project will focus on people with cancer, as well as adults and children with rare diseases. Because all Britons are members of the National Health Service, the project expects to be able to compare DNA data with detailed centralized health records (see “Why the U.K. Wants a Genomic National Health Service”).
While the number of genomes to be sequenced is 100,000, the total number of Britons participating in the study is smaller, about 70,000. That is because for cancer patients Genomics England intends to obtain the sequence of both their inherited DNA as well as that of their cancers.
Genomics England began talking early this year to potential bidders, including Chinese company and Illumina rival BGI (see “Inside China’s Genome Factory”). At the time, the average cost of completing a genome was about $3,000 to $4,000.
Completing all 100,000 genomes would have cost more than twice Genomics England’s budget. The agency said in December it intended to use its negotiating power to drive prices down.