LEADING GENOME SEQUENCER DEBUTS, WILL REDUCE COST
He Jiankui, founder and chairman of Direct Genomics and an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), presents the GenoCare single-molecule genome sequencer at a launch ceremony in Shenzhen yesterday.
Han Ximin, Pang Cuiqiong
GENOCARE Analyzer, the single-molecule genome sequencer which has been engineered for clinical use, debuted in Shenzhen yesterday and will start mass production next year.
The highly integrated, easily operated and fully automated GenoCare system could be widely used in hospitals for clinical cancer gene testing, prenatal diagnosis and genetic disease checks for newborns, according to Direct Genomics, which developed the product.
“So far we have received orders for 700 sequencing analyzers and we will start volume production next year after the production line at the Dawutong Emerging Industry Belt in Luohu District is completed. The line will be able to produce 1,000 analyzers a year,” He Jiankui, founder and chairman of Direct Genomics and associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), said at a launch ceremony yesterday.
The third-generation se-quencer boasts the advantages of reducing costs and sequencing time, while maintaining high quality.
He estimates the cost of sequencing will be reduced to around 1,000 yuan (US$148) in two years, 90 percent lower than the present cost, and people will be able to access precision medication, disease prevention, intervention, personal health management and dietary guidance through the sequencing service at hospitals.
“This product is the result of five years of hard work by the science team at Direct Genomics, which had almost gone bankrupt twice due to shortages in funds,” said He, who tapped into the upstream sector of the sequencing industry in 2012 after finishing his postdoctoral training at Stanford University.
However, thanks to the courage of venture capitalists and the generosity of the Shenzhen government in supporting startups, the company, which started with 1 million yuan, has raised 200 million yuan for its development in recent years. The city provided 40 million yuan in subsidies under the Peacock Program for the development of the company.
The complete industrial chain of electronics, precision machinery, molecular biology and biological design in Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta area is another reason for the success of the sequencer as the development of the device required multidisciplinary research ranging from enzymology to optics.
“Five years ago, when He came to my lab to develop a new-generation sequencer, I thought his idea was innovative, but worried about its feasibility as there were many technological obstacles. This technology, which can measure DNA and RNA sequences at the single-molecule level without amplifying a patient’s DNA thousands of times, is great progress as it can save a great amount of costs. Now I am happy to see that He and his team have realized it,” said Chen Runsheng, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, at the launch ceremony.
The team, with an average age of 28, has maintained a rich portfolio of 92 issued and pending patents protecting innovative products and technologies for single-molecular sequencing.
At present, Pacific Biosciences of California, Oxford Nanopore Technologies and Direct Genomics have technologies for developing a third-generation sequencing analyzer.
“Among the three core indexes to evaluate a sequencing analyzer, we took the lead in two indexes including throughput and accuracy,” said He.
The debut of the sequencing analyzer enables Direct Genomics to take the technological lead in competing with the world’s leading genomics companies, according to Yu Jun, researcher with the Beijing Institute of Genomics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.