On the shuttle from Marco Island to the airport last week, I happened to sit next to a very nice gentleman from Illumina. We got to talking, of course, and I asked him if they saw a threat from any of the new sequencing platforms presented at AGBT. I’m aware that Illumina currently enjoys a greater-than-50% share of the next-gen sequencing market, so I was curious about his impressions.
“We definitely see a segmentation of the market,” he admitted.
Something had been bothering me about the sequencing-company presentations this year, and I finally realized what it was. During AGBT 2009, every player was gunning to take over the world. This year it seems like every sequencing platform has a niche in mind.
General Sequencing: Illumina vs. Life Technologies
Illumina’s HiSeq2000 and Life Tech’s SOLiD 4 are after the general sequencing market – whole genome, transcriptome, and targeted (capture) sequencing. It’s a constant game of one-upmanship in throughput and claimed accuracy. In February this year, Illumina launched the HiSeq2000 with expected throughput of 200 GB per run. Life Technologies launched SOLiD 4 with 100 GB per run, but promised 300GB per run later this year. On the read length front, Illumina remains the clear winner – 2×100 is in production at many genome centers, and even longer reads have been promised. Life Tech, to their credit, is pushing the SOLiD 4 platform pretty hard.
When Length Matters: 454
Roche/454 has wisely backed away from large-scale sequencing, and instead seems to be targeting applications where longer (450 bp) reads are a requirement. At AGBT, Henry Erlich (Roche) gave an interesting talk about genotyping and haplotyping human HLA regions to improve donor matching for organ transplants. Here’s a key challenge of modern medicine where sequencing can offer tangible benefits. Here at the genome center, we use 454 runs for validation and for small-scale targeted sequencing. There are many applications where relatively inexpensive long-read sequencing runs are idea; full-length cDNA sequencing, for example, comes to mind.
Complete Genomics: Sequencing as a Service
The business model of Complete Genomics seems a bit of a gamble to me. They aim to be the provider of relatively inexpensive, start-to-finish sequencing services. No technology or reagent sales for these guys. Instead, they want to take your samples and give you back the SNPs. In the coming years, they hope to build as many as 10 facilities throughout the world that provide these services. I’m a bit leery of Complete Genomics, not only because their proprietary technology lags behind others (currently it’s at 2X35 bp), but because they’ll need to do something like 10,000 genomes a year just to stay in business. I don’t think we’re ready for that.
Sequencing for the Masses: IonTorrent
Many of us were impressed by IonTorrent this year at AGBT. The incredibly low cost of their instrument ($50K) and sequencing runs ($300-500) mean that nearly any lab could write a grant around this technology. The sample prep, accuracy, and throughput are still a grey area, but if they prove to be good enough, high-throughput sequencing will suddenly be available to just about everyone.
Single Molecule Applications: Pac Bio and Oxford Nanopore
The true single-molecule sequencing platforms that are close to market are certainly getting everyone excited. In the next few years, however, it’s unlikely that Pacific Biosciences, Oxford Nanopore, mystery-Chinese-platform, or other companies will displace massively parallel sequencing. No, I think Illumina and SOLiD will remain the “work horses” for discovery, certainly at major genome centers. Where SMS technologies can excel, however, is ultra-long reads – think about PacBio’s strobe sequencing to resolve structural variation or finish assemblies – and lots of molecule-kinetics stuff that I don’t understand.
I think that 2010 will be an exciting and telling time for all of these platforms. In a year’s time, we should have results in hand from HiSeq, SOLiD4, PacBio, and even IonTorrent, and be able to distinguish between marketing claims and sequencing reality.