Make Room for Big Blue: IBM the Latest (and Largest) Entrant in the Race for the $1,000 Genome

920905The quest for the $1,000 genome—viewed by many as the point at which whole-genome sequencing will become cost-effective and widely available—is a fierce competition populated by a cast of start-ups and specialized genomics companies.

The most well-known entrants in the next-generation sequencing market are companies such as Oxford NanoporePacific Biosciences and Complete Genomics; names that are hardly familiar to the average patient or consumer. And the wilder the sequencing claims—e.g., a full genome “for less than $100 in under an hour“—the more obscure, at least for the moment, the company: Halcyon Molecular, BioNanomatrix and NABsys among others.

Even the giant of the genomic sequencing field, Illumina, Inc.—publicly traded and the acknowledged leader in the development of current genome sequencing platforms and technology, as well as the holder of commercialization rights in Oxford Nanopore’s promising next-gen sequencing technology—is largely confined to a highly specialized field.

So it was certainly a significant development when IBM—a behemoth in any field—announced this evening that it’s plunging headlong into the race for the $1,000 genome. And according to the New York Times, which broke the story this evening, IBM isn’t planning on stopping at $1,000:

One of the oldest names in computing is joining the race to sequence the genome for $1,000. On Tuesday, I.B.M. plans to give technical details of its effort to reach and surpass that goal, ultimately bringing the cost to as low as $100, making a personal genome cheaper than a ticket to a Broadway play.

What does this mean for the field and future of genomic sequencing? IBM’s presence simultaneously represents a substantial ratcheting up of the competition to provide the fastest, cheapest and highest quality genome sequence data and a strong indicator that all three of those variables—speed, price, and accuracy—will continue to improve in the face of increasingly intense competition. Moreover, IBM’s entry provides further affirmation of the commercial viability of the genomic sequencing field as a whole, even as it dims the commercial outlook of many of the individual sequencing companies who, along with their investors, are unlikely to have counted on having to compete with a company as rich in resources and informatics expertise as IBM.

The Genomics Law Report will have more on IBM’s announcement and its implications as the story progresses. In the meantime, check back tomorrow morning for a commentary from Complete Genomics, now one of IBM’s newest competitors, who will provide the next installment in the GLR’s ongoing What ELSI is New? series.

(Note: The IBM logo used in this post is courtesy of IBM’s Archives and was the first logo employed by the company after it abandoned the name the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company in favor of International Business Machines Corporation.)

Update 10/6: you can watch a video of IBM’s proposed DNA Transistor technology here.

Update 10/9: GenomeWeb has additional information on other recipients of NIH $1000 Genome grants, including General Electric, Pacific Biosciences, Helicos BioSciences, Lightspeed Genomics and others.