As gene sequencing technology gets faster and cheaper, companies are finding more ways to commercialize DNA, from offering disease-specific genetic tests and whole-genome sequencing to portable sequencers that allow you analyze genetic data anywhere. Five standouts made our list of the 50 Smartest Companies.
23andMe first debuted direct-to-consumer tests meant to predict disease in 2013, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration quickly clamped down on that and told the company to stop marketing the tests, saying they could be inaccurate and confusing to consumers. But the company was vindicated earlier this year when the FDA revised that decision, declaring 23andMe could sell tests that estimate customers’ risk of certain disease, as long as they don’t purport to diagnose any disease.
Early this year, Illumina, the manufacturer of most of the world’s DNA sequencers, unveiled its newest, most efficient machine, NovaSeq, which can sequence as many as 48 entire human genomes in two and a half days, according to the company. Illumina claims the ultra-fast machine will usher in the $100 genome and will open the door for researchers to cheaply sequence DNA in search of rare genetic variants that cause disease.
Twelve years in the making, Oxford Nanopore’s handheld DNA sequencer is living up to its promise to decode DNA anywhere, on the spot. Called the MinION, the portable sequencer has traveled the world, from the forests of West Africa to northeastern Brazil, to analyze the genetic makeup of the Ebola and Zika viruses. It’s been blasted up to the International Space Station and has visited Antarctica to study pathogens living in extreme environments. The $1,000 device is being used for on-the-spot diagnostic testing, germ monitoring, and more.
Sophia Genetics is taking a big-data approach to DNA. The Swiss company is using AI algorithms to continuously learn from thousands of patients’ genomic data. Partnering hospitals take patient samples and run them through a DNA sequencer. The Sophia system sifts through that genetic information to identify mutations in a patient’s genome. The company says its technology is helping to quickly and more accurately diagnose conditions like cancer, metabolic disorders, and heart disease. To date, more than 100,000 patients have been tested with Sophia’s system.
Veritas Genetics will determine a complete readout of your genetic code for just $1,000. The technique, called whole-genome sequencing, previously could only be ordered by a doctor. So far, whole-genome sequencing has mostly been used in tough patient cases, providing a diagnosis to a previously unknown disease, for example. But Veritas is betting on the idea that healthy people want to know all about their DNA, too. The company even started offering sequencing for newborns in China this year.