Helicos loses a lap to Illumina in race for cheap genome sequencing

Illumina Inc. (NSDQ:ILMN) put some distance between itself and its competitors this week, as it revealed equipment capable of sequencingthe human genome for less than $10,000.

The San Diego-based company unveiled its HiSeq 2000 at the annual J.P. Morgan Health Care Conference in San Francisco, where CEO Jay Flatley said a Hong Kong-based genomics institute called BGI bought 128 of the $690,000 systems, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The news is a blow to Cambridge, Mass.-based Helicos BioSciences Corp. (NSDQ:HLCS), which is also developing gene sequencing technology (Pacific Biosciences Inc. and Life Technologies Inc. (NSDQ:LIFE) are also in the hunt, according to the newspaper. It typically costs around $50,000 to sequence a human genome, the Journal said.

The Illumina system is capable of running parallel operations on a pair of genomes, Flatley said, meaning a patient’s genome and the DNA from her tumor could be run simultaneously.

“It’s a pretty significant leap forward,” Elaine Mardis, co-director of the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University in St. Louis, told the newspaper, adding that accelerated sequencing could help reveal the genetic causes of disease.

You could call Helicos’ approach to sequencing highly focused: Last December, the company announced a study by researchers at Mass. General Hospital using its technology to analyze single DNA molecules. The technique could help expose how cells regulate themselves on a genetic level.

Also in December, Helicos registered 6.4 million shares of its own stock, priced at $1 per share, hoping to drum up some cash to fund research and development and for general corporate purposes.

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