Many in the genomics community are heading to San Diego this week for the Illumina Genomics Forum—the company’s annual meeting. The event, kicking off on Wednesday with an introduction from Francis deSouza, Illumina’s CEO, entitled “This Is the Moment,” has garnered more attention than an average genomics meeting.
Why the buzz? To some, it may be the headliner speakers such as Bill Gates, Francis Arnold, and Barack Obama. Scoring a former president to talk about genomics is enough to merit a fair amount of attention.
However, to NGS insiders, the buzz bypasses Obama and is aimed directly at Illumina’s sequencing technology. More specifically, what the company will reveal on Thursday morning during their “Innovation Roadmap” session. It is then that deSouza, together with Alex Aravanis, MD, PhD, Illumina’s CTO, is expected to announce the much anticipated updates to their sequencing platforms.
Earlier this year, at the JP Morgan conference held in January, Illumina divulged that they were working on several platform developments including Chemistry X—the chemistry that, they said, is entirely new and improved. They asserted, at that time, that Chemistry X will include a new polymerase to incorporate X-nucleotides and will produce longer read lengths (twice as long), in shorter cycle times (they said half), that are more accurate. Almost nothing has been said since then and some think that the genomics forum will be the place where the rest of the curtain is drawn back.
With the genomics community buzzing over the announcement, GEN asked five genomics experts to predict what they think the company may announce this week:
Catharine Aquino, Group Leader, Genomics Analytics at the Functional Genomics Center Zurich, ETH Zürich and the University of Zürich
“There are rumors that Illumina will release a new instrument which I don’t think is a good move given that their main advantage is that everyone has a Novaseq. It will level the field if they make their own instruments obsolete. If it’s true, maybe Illumina will make it possible to upgrade the Novaseq, thus keeping their advantage.”
Simon Barnett, Director of Life Sciences Research at ARK Investment Management
“Conservatively, I think they’ll confirm that Chemistry X is backward compatible for the NextSeq 1,000/2,000.”
James Hadfield, PhD, Senior Director, (Epigenomics) Oncology Translational Medicine at AstraZeneca
“My prediction is for a significant NovaSeq upgrade or a replacement instrument that delivers an impactful reduction in cost/Gb. I don’t think Illumina will “knee jerk” like they did around 2010 when ABI said they were launching a 300 Gb machine. But I do think they have to react to the drop in costs enabled by Ultima Genomics, Element Biosciences, and BGI. Hopefully, this will be an instrument upgrade that is affordable for labs and does not leave too many 3+-year-old NovaSeqs behind.”
Charlie Johnson, PhD, Director, Genomics & Bioinformatics at Texas A&M AgriLife Research
“Given what we heard at AGBT22, I will be disappointed if Illumina doesn’t announce that Chemistry X will be backward compatible with current systems resulting in a 2X increase in output and a resulting halving of the cost per base.”
Keith Robison, PhD, genomics expert and author of omicsomics.blogspot.com
“Version 2 of NovaSeq which will support Chemistry X and superresolution imaging. The new S16 flowcell for it will have over 4X data yield of the S4 flowcell.”
Another prediction? That Illumina does not reveal anything at all. But the pressure being applied from new competitors makes silence an unlikely option. Over the past year, Illumina has faced unprecedented competition with the launch of at least three new California-based sequencing startups and a global sequencing giant making moves onto U.S. soil.
The most recent company to launch, Ultima Genomics, will start shipping their UG-100—which is poised to go head-to-head with Illumina’s NovaSeq instrument—next year. Ultima has made bold promises with their sequencing chemistry approach called mostly natural sequencing by synthesis, or mnSBS. Two San Diego-based startups, Element Biosciences and Singular Genomics, have already launched their benchtop, mid-throughput sequencing platforms that stand to compete with Illumina’s NextSeq. And MGI’s move into the U.S. market will bring multiple instruments to American researchers for the first time.
These platforms each bring varied focuses on speed, cost, flexibility, read length, and accuracy. But, they share one thing in common—they all offer new choices for Illumina’s existing customers.
Given that Illumina is not going to let its market dominance go unanswered, GEN is heading to San Diego this morning to find out how they will respond. Stay tuned for more information on what Illumina announces, if anything, and to see whose prediction was most accurate.