Genetic Future

The announcement of the Helicos genome sequence (which I’ve already discussed in detail) engendered a huge amount of media interest, sometimes for the wrong reasons

Having the media attention directed elsewhere in the third-generation sequencing space was clearly an unwelcome experience for Helicos competitors Pacific Biosciences, who have responded with a press release announcing the successful raising of $68M to finance further development of their single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing platform.
To be fair, raising that sort of capital in the current economic climate is no mean feat, although this is perhaps as much a tribute to PacBio’s PR acumen as to their promising technology and financial potential. 
The challenges lying ahead for this company in penetrating a sequencing market already thoroughly dominated by Illumina (who has already signed a distribution contract with a competing third-generation platform, Oxford Nanopore) should not be understated. PacBio’s technology will have to represent a spectacular advance over the current state of the art (unlike, say, Helicos’ offering) to have a chance, at least over the medium term. 
Still, the promise of super-long single-molecule reads from PacBio is enticing, and I look forward to seeing the results that emerge from their platform once it finally reaches the market. The press release suggests that the commercial launch will come in late 2010, so we still have a while to wait.
Meanwhile, on a tangent: I note with interest that one of the investors is the Wellcome Trust, a major UK-based charitable foundation that has invested heavily in genomic research. I hope the Trust realises that their investment in PacBio could earn them another semi-coherent rant from Applied Biosystems/Life Technologies’ Kevin McKernan unless the Trust swiftly make a precisely equal contribution to Life Technologies. In the interests of fairness and competition, of course.
If that last paragraph made no sense to you, see David Dooling and Nick Loman for context.


  1. #1 Dan Vorhaus
    August 12, 2009

    I found it interesting that another of the named investors was Monsanto. Unless they’re getting into that subset of GMOs known as GMHs, it appears they’re interested in PacBio for its non-human applications. Makes me wonder about the viability of the Complete Genomics model which, last I heard, involved human genomes only.

  2. #2 Johnny
    August 15, 2009

    Oxford Nanopore and Pacific Biosciences systems may be 2-3 years in the future. The price of a Helicos machine should go down in the near turn. It can easily take a significant market share away from other companies like Illumina.

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