The Genomic Revolution & Coming Medical Breakthroughs

The Genomic Revolution & Coming Medical Breakthroughs




by Eden Rahim, Next Edge Capital

The well-known decline in the cost of processing power, and associated increase in processing capacity, facilitated technology innovation at an increasing rate during the 1980s and 1990s. That trend is quantified by ‘Moore’s Law’, named after Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel. In fact, technology has become so ubiquitous, that no one needs convincing how its impact has transformed our world and our experience of reality. Technological advances made it possible to dramatically improve business productivity, and create a myriad of affordable consumer devices.

The cost of computing was halved about every 17 months until 1985, then halved every 10 months subsequently. This rapid increase in processing capacity enabled miniaturization and thus conception of devices once the purview of science fiction.

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A similar, though much less obvious phenomenon is occurring in Biotechnology.  Biotech began in the 1980s as a ‘wet science’ and progressed as such for the next twenty years. In 2000, the sequencing of the 3-billion base-pair Human Genome was finally completed and briefly put the industry in the spotlight. The possibilities for medical breakthroughs from this achievement seemed endless. But there was a significant hurdle to moving forward. The process of sequencing the genome lasted almost a decade, required unfathomable computing power, and cost $2.7 billion. But it was responsible for Biotech melding with Tech. New fields like Bioinformatics emerged to makes sense of this vast array of data.

As the decade progressed, considerable progress was made in sequencing technology such that by 2005, the same process would cost $10 million. Much lower, but still cost prohibitive. By 2010, a decade after the celebrated first sequencing, Illumina’s state-of-the-art HiSeq 2000 reduced the cost to $10,000, and everything changed. Today, that same process costs $1,000, and the barrier to having the genomes sequenced for millions of individuals, has vanished.

What breakthroughs will the resulting crash in the cost of sequencing enable? What formerly inconceivable medical treatments can now be contemplated?

The promise of what is to come is also why Tech giants Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft, who are leaders in ‘Big Data’ analysis, have staked claims in genomics. The unprecedented processing power required to deconstruct the meaning of the 3-billion base pairs of millions of individuals, require technology powerhouses to enable further advances.

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Source: National Research Institute (NHGRI), Next Edge Capital

Sequencing is the process of reading the genetic code each of us carries in every one of our cells. That code is made up of a 4 letter alphabet (A,T,C,G) and is the software which determines every protein made by our body. It is also the master-code for how cells differentiate into millions of unique cells, all from a single cell.

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Source: Office of Biological and Environmental Research of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science

Damage to our genetic code or mutations occur frequently. Most of the time the genetic machinery is able to correct these mutations and restore the correct gene. However, when it is not, then a gene may now code for the production of a defective protein, or cease to function, no longer producing essential proteins, resulting in a malfunction. The genome is so sensitive that diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis is due to a mutation in a single base-pair out of the 3-billion base-pair.

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