Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) Brings New World to Clinical Research

Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) Brings New World to Clinical Research

The ambition of BGI, previously Beijing Genomics Institute, was on display in its recent profile. The increasingly diversified researcher has already accomplished so-called “mass-production” cloning with 500 cloned pigs a year. A team of BGI technicians is able to complete in vitro fusion of donor DNA into unfertilized eggs under a microscope. The cloned pigs will be used to conduct trials for new human medicines.

Next door at the same facility, next-generation sequencers are laying the foundation for potentially innumerable follow-up research products, not only in medicine, but also in food product formulation and agriculture:

In neighbouring buildings, there are rows of gene sequencers - machines the size of fridges operating 24 hours a day crunching through the codes for life.

To illustrate the scale of this operation, Europe’s largest gene sequencing centre is the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge. It has 30 machines. BGI has 156 and has even bought an American company that makes them

Again, a comparison for scale: a recently-launched UK project seeks to sequence 10,000 human genomes. BGI has ambitions to sequence the genomes of a million people, a million animals and a million plants.”

Powering BGI’s operations and ambitions are sequencers that are rapidly closing the time and cost requirements to sequence an individual genome, and that are increasingly prevalent in the research hubs of the developing world. A leading sequencer vendor, Life Technologies, already relocated all its manufacturing of such instruments to Singapore, in order to more easily supply its growing Asia-Pacific client base.

Mirroring the timeline projected by Kalorama Information in 2012, the cost of sequencing a human genome will fall this year to the $1,000 milestone using Illumina’s HiSeq X sequencer platform.  Genomics companies such as BGI are major clients for Illumina, though BGI’s relationship grew more complicated following its 2013 acquisition of U.S. sequencing technology company Complete Genomics. The acquired company will allow BGI to develop in-house platforms and lower the cost of genome sequencing even further and potentially fulfill the goal of sequencing hundreds of thousands of individual genomes a year.

BGI’s acquisition of Complete Genomics was not lost to Illumina and other U.S. players who sought to block the transaction. As the example of BGI demonstrates, the diffusion of genomics technology has consequences not only in personalized medicine, but potentially bioengineering and its applications in food products and agriculture.