Intel, Others Invest $100 Million in Speedy New DNA Sequencer

This morning it was announced that Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) and other investors will pump $100 million into a start-up company that says, by 2010, it will launch sales of a system capable of sequencing the human genome in 15 minutes.

Pacific Biosciences of California, Inc. of Menlo Park, California, will receive $100 million in funding by a consortium of investors led by Intel Capital (the investment division of Intel Corp.) and Deerfield Capital Management, LLC, of Rosemont, Illinois. Other funders in the group included Mohr Davidow Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Alloy Ventures, and DAG Ventures.

Pathologists and laboratory directors will recognize several significant developments in today’s announcement. First, Intel’s willingness to take a lead role in funding this DNA sequencing system affirms that genetics will be a major customer for information technology. Second, should Pacific Biosystems deliver, as early as 2010, a competitively-priced gene sequencing system that can sequence a human genome in 15 minutes, this will greatly accelerate progress in molecular diagnostics.

In scientific meetings over the past year, Pacific Biosciences has caused quite a stir with descriptions of its gene sequencing technology. In February, at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology meeting in Marco Island, Florida, writer Julia Karow of In Sequence wrote how Pacific Biosciences “projects that, with improvements to its enzyme biochemistry and in camera technology, it will eventually be able to generate more than 100 gigabases of sequence data per hour, or a diploid human genome at about 15-fold coverage; provide reads at least as long as Sanger sequencing; and offer run times measuring in minutes at a cost of hundreds of dollars. Using a prototype system, PacBio researchers have already shown they can get read lengths of more than 1,500 bases and multiplex hundreds of sequencing reactions. The company predicts it will be selling its instruments to early adopters sometime in 2010 at a similar price to currently available next-generation sequencers.”

Competitors in this race to produce a cheap, fast human genome sequencing system include Illumina, Inc. (NASDAQ:ILMN), Helicos BioSciencs Corporation (NASD:HLCS), and Complete Genomics, Inc.

Dark Daily considers Intel’s participation in this latest round of funding to be another important validation of how genetics and molecular diagnostics will transform healthcare. Pathologists and laboratory administrators will want to track how the race to the “15-minute human genome” unfolds. With applications in research, in pharmaceutical development, and in clinical diagnostics, technologies such as that under development by Pacific Biosystems promises to be transformational to laboratory medicine as we know it today.

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