June 28, 2018 –

What’s Trending in Genomics: The Rise of Clinical Sequencing

In this special series on the What's Trending in Genomics, CEO Rob Brainin shares insights and expertise from our colleagues around the globe to spotlight the most important trends in genomics.

WuXi NextCODE, its partners, and its clients work at the frontier of genomics worldwide. Our platform brings together more genomic data than any other like it and is driven by breakthrough technologies that enable a full range of genomics-related research and clinical services. In this special series on the Outlook for Genomics, CEO Rob Brainin shares insights and expertise from our colleagues around the globe to spotlight the most important trends in genomics.

It’s been 18 years since we “cracked” the human genome, creating the first working draft sequence. Since then, those of us working in genomics have been on a rollercoaster of hope and hype. But as is often the case in medical science, years of perseverance and effort have led the field to an interestingly even keel where issues of privacy and security are more the topics of the day than utility. We’ve watched genomics become a bright light in research and medicine and have witnessed dramatic advances in areas such as oncology and rare disease.

Until now, the majority of the world’s growing sequencing market has been in research projects, but there is increasing demand for clinical sequencing as an evolution of progress.  Illumina, a bellwether for the sequencing industry, announced that clinical and translational customers made up 45 percent of the firm’s shipments of sequencers in 2017, up from 39 percent in 2016. The clinical market is growing faster than the research market.

At WuXi NextCODE, we’ve also noticed this uptick in demand for clinical sequencing, and I’m thrilled to be in a position to help make the data from these powerful instruments increasingly useful for actual patient care.

While the speed and cost of sequencing is crucial to continued innovation and progress, my  expectation is that data analysis will become the deciding factor in successful genomics projects going forward.  Thanks to advances made by the sequencing equipment providers, access to sequencing at a reasonable cost is no longer a bottleneck. But not everyone has the analytical tools and access to the data that can turn the fruits of sequencing into actual findings. And that is an absolute necessity when there is such potential to better illuminate human biology and to impact individual health.

Rare disease is one example of the areas fueling the growth of clinical genomics. Our partners at Children’s Hospital of Fudan University in China recently sequenced 11,000 patients in the first year of our collaboration. The combination of our RareCODE genomic sequencing, our rare disease knowledge base, and the expertise of both Fudan’s physicians and our technical staff was able to deliver on diagnoses to about 30% of patients. That is similar to the best rates seen at leading medical centers around the world.

Will Ferguson, our Vice President of Business Development, also sees other forces spurring genomics.  “I think clinical sequencing will grow even faster as the research advances,” he says. Will has been working in life sciences for over 15 years, including at some of the premier pioneering sequencing companies, including Complete Genomics and Agilent. “Scientists are now investigating what was once called ‘junk’ DNA, epigenetics, and other things that fall outside of the coding areas. The entire genome is informative, we just didn’t know it,” he says. This growing data pool will increase the value of clinical testing.

Another area Will sees fueling sequencing growth is clinical trials.  “More and more pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are implementing whole exome and whole genome sequencing in their clinical trial programs,” he says.  Creating appropriate patient cohorts streamlines trials and makes results more robust.  “Now we can also more easily integrate phenotypic data, do multi-omic sequencing, and then use advanced analytics to get the best use out of all that information,” he adds.

WuXi NextCODE is well positioned to play a dominant role in this evolving market, already bringing together the US, Europe, and China. The key challenge in genomics today is not just generating the data, but interpreting it and using it at scale globally.

It is inspiring to think that it took more than 10 years and cost almost $3 billion to sequence the first human genome. I look forward to seeing what comes next in the use of genomic data as it progresses into active clinical care. The potential for transformation in healthcare is inspiring, but as with anything, we have to see what happens next and handle the advances of our field with thought and consideration. At the end of the day, it is about being stewards of good science with the advances of technology into areas of medical care.