Yesterday was a good day. Baylor and Life Technologies announce that the upcoming Ion Torrent Proton sequencer has been installed at the Baylor College of Medicine’s Human Genome Sequencing Center. (For those of you who may have missed it, this was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, and was considered by some ‘today’s coolest gadget‘ there.) Promising a $1,000 genome in 4 hours, a key milestone was met: getting the first ‘early access’ systems into the hands of customers.
‘Early Access’ means that these are ‘beta’ units, which enables customers to see for themselves a product that may have rough edges and will have areas under active development, such as documentation, software, packaging and final protocols. (Believe me, there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of dependencies, and you can imagine how complex a process it is to get a product like a genome sequencer out the door.)
A YouTube video showing the installation at Baylor is cool. I like especially the shot of the Proton I chip at the 1:30 mark – reproduced here – that shows clearly a 73% well occupancy, and of those 93% are ‘live’ which means have some sequence on them. The relatively high loading numbers, almost six months before its commercial launch in the Fall of 2012, bodes well. It’s a good day for us. (Disclosure: I am a Life Technologies employee, and am only sharing publicly available information, in case anyone was wondering!)
I expect my former colleagues at Illumina to not stand still – the planned HiSeq 2500 upgrade promises a 27-hour human genome (120Gb runs) this summer, but the instrument price will still be daunting (roughly 3x the price of a Proton system, about $740K USD vs. about $244K USD), and the per-Gb reagent cost will still be at a premium. (The Proton II chip, slated to come out six months after the Proton I chip, will be on the order of $15/Gb or less, compared to the current list price of HiSeq 2000 reagents, about $36/Gb.) (HiSeq 2500 reagent pricing has not been announced, but it is expected that customers will pay some premium over the $36/Gb HiSeq 2000 pricing, ‘nowhere near twice as much‘ according to the Illumina CEO Jay Flatley.) A very expensive instrument at 3x the price, and much more expensive to run, that takes a lot longer – the HiSeq 2500 will have to make a lot of changes to compete against the Proton (especially the Proton II chip).
Lastly customers will see data soon off of the Proton I chip, from the TargetSeq whole exome kit that will be launched with the Proton I. The data that was presented at a local user group meeting by a colleague this week looked very good, and I’ll talk about this more in an upcoming post.