The Personalized Medicine World Congress held January 19-20, 2010 in Mountain View, CA was one of the first business conferences devoted to personalized medicine. There is a lot of excitement about personalized medicine and genomics given some recent announcements regarding whole human genome sequencing. First, Complete Genomics reported the costs of consumables (required chemical reagents), dropping to $4,400, and even $1,500 (Supporting Online Material page 27) per genome. Illumina similarly announced dramatic price drops, an estimated all-in cost of $10,000 per whole human genome with the new HiSeq 2000 machine. Illumina currently charges individuals $48,000 for whole human genome sequencing. The HiSeq 2000 is priced at $690,000 per machine and BGI (formerly the Beijing Genome Institute) has ordered 128.
Complete Genomics’ CEO Cliff Reid made an interesting point that despite genomic sequencing having been progressing at 10x improvements per year since 2006, theoretical limits are starting to be reached and the industry will probably return to regular Moore’s Law progress curves (18 month performance doublings). While third-generation sequencers such as Complete Genomics (using a short-read sequencing-by-probe-ligation technology) and Pacific Biosciences (using a single-molecule real-time sequencing by synthesis technology) may start to reach limits, fourth-generation sequencers using other technologies such as nanopores (e.g., Oxford Nanopore Technologies), and electron microscope imaging (e.g., Halcyon Molecular, ZS Genetics), may be able to keep the sequencing industry progressing at faster-than-Moore’s-Law rates.
The most hopeful comments came from Esther Dyson and Leroy Hood. Esther Dyson, pointing out the still heavy focus on health institutions rather than consumer-empowerment for transformation to the personalized medicine era said that she felt like she was “representing the PC world at a mainframe convention.” Directly paralleling the current medical system, she also noted that when Gutenberg arrived with the printing press, the priests said ‘there’s no reason people need to read the bible themselves, we can read it for them.’ However, as shown in Figure 1, personalized medicine is about wellness, not disease, and while there are certainly overlaps with the current domain of physicians, there may be minimal encroachment due to automated tools and new health ecosystem participants such as wellness advisors.
Leroy Hood set forth a detailed plan for the future of medicine, P4 Medicine: medicine that is predictive, personalized, preventive, and participatory. Looking for the fingerprints of health vs. disease, he envisions a future where billions of data points are investigated per individual. There could be at least four relevant data sets. One data set is the whole human genome sequence. Another could be a biannual wellness screen for 2,500 blood-based organ-specific proteins indicating possible precursors to disease. A third data set could be an immune system screen of the 10,000 B cells and 10,000 T cells, looking at the functional regions of immune receptors, and past and preset immune responsiveness. A fourth data set, in the instance of cancer, could be taking a single cancer call and sequencing 1,000 transcriptomes simultaneously to understand how cancer is expressed in particular individuals. These data sets could help to realize medicine as an information science and address the specificity of disease and wellness in individuals.