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Illumina Launches Helix, App Store for Genetic Analysis

Next Gen Seqencing Helix

Illumina announced formation of a customer focused company that seeks to provide affordable sequencing and analysis tools marketplace through third party providers at affordable costs.

Formed in partnership with Warburg Pincus and Sutter Hill Ventures, with a $100 million investment, the new venture will form an umbrella under which other genetic sequencing database service providers will be able to provide their services. These will enable customers to gain insight from their genetic information. It is essentially an Apple Store for cloud applications that analyse and give information about the genetic data shared by customers, without the need for these third party providers to invest in genetic sequencing labs.

Similar to Illumina’s BaseSpace bioinformatics platform for research labs, the Helix marketplace will offer tools in the Helix platform with a pay-as-you-use model. Each time a user selects an app to interpret their genome, this app maker will get paid. Illumia has also highlighted their “neutral” stance on serving the genetic information to the selected apps. BaseSpace has so far suffered from lack of useful apps on its platform, without a solid revenue model. Hackathons haven’t helped revive the tools much either. Taking lessons learnt from BaseSpace and inspiration from Apple’s App Store, the CEO of Illumina Jay Flatley is betting on increasing individual curiosity into their own genomes and revenue sharing to bring in more collaborators or affiliates. Two collaborators have already signed up to provide tools for Helix, Centre for Individualised Medicine by Mayo Clinic and Laboratory Corporation of America ® Holdings. These collaborators will use the cloud platform to provide advanced interpretation and analysis services.

Helix itself will provide low cost sequencing and genome storage services, and is set to become the largest genome sequencing lab in the world. Unlike 23andMe, Helix will sequence more than just exome, calling it “exome plus” genetic sequencing. Although this will cost Helix upwards of $500, the company is not planning to charge the entire amount to the customer. They are counting on their customers to use their services again, for which the cost of the app will remain the same minus the cost of sequencing the genome, helping Helix recover the cost of sequencing. As time goes, accumulation of more genetic data will lead to more discoveries, which will mean better interpretation for the customer.

While the idea of genome in the cloud is good, it will also mean that individuals cannot download or share their already sequenced data with other service providers who are not part of Helix. This is akin to DRM protected files by Apple, immensely unpopular. It will also end up discouraging a lot of other corporate customers of Illumina sequencers who provide similar sequencing and interpretation services using Illumina next-gen sequencers.

It is projected to go live by 2016 and we are not sure how each app on the cloud will deal with CMS and FDA guidelines. Educational and sports related apps are set to come first, followed by more complex apps that might be able to capitalize on other services the collaborators provide. One example would be personalized drugs manufacturers could sell drugs based on their exact needs.

Source: Illumina Press Release