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Is There New Next Generation Sequencing Technology on the Horizon?

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Next generation sequencing (NGS) has evolved since Frederick Sanger introduced it in the 1970s. Every innovation is more impressive as the costs drop, and the efficiency of the technology grows. During the Memorial Day weekend, a small company called Ultima Genomics teased the world with the $100 genome. Could this be the next evolutionary step in NGS?

Why Cost is a Factor In Gene Sequencing?

As impressive as Sanger’s next generation sequencing is, it is slow and costly. Sanger’s technique can only sequence short pieces of DNA at one time – typically from 300 to 1,000 base pairs. That is one reason Sanger sequencing is so expensive. A 2016 cost analysis study published in The Lancet states Sanger costs more than 214 U.S. dollars for just one hepatitis C (HCV) sample.

In addition, Sanger sequencing has some accuracy challenges, which might require several tests to confirm the results. The quality suffers with this technique in the first 40 bases and degrades further after 700.

In comparison, NGS technology can run higher volume tests and improve accuracy. That brings the prices of the testing down to around 71 dollars. The newest technology from Ultima might offer even more improvement.

The Ultima Genomics Preprint

The preprint released by Ultima Genomics promises cost-efficient whole-genome sequencing using a novel method. The statement claims their new technology will do 10 billion reads per run in under 20 hours and will cost just one dollar per gigabit (GB). That is for 300 bp reads.

It is not entirely clear whether this method is better than some currently in use that does 100 bp reads. It is faster, though. Current next generation sequencing technology takes 48 hours to complete the run. Ultima is promising to do it in just 20 hours and for less. Ultima states its cost is one dollar per GB. That is considerably cheaper than the nearest competitor, which offers the process at five dollars per GB.

Who Is Ultima Genomics?

Ultima Genomics is not one of the more well-known names in gene sequencing. In fact, the company founder isn’t even a geneticist. There is plenty of genomics talent on board at Ultima, though. The company’s vice president, Rob Tarbox, spent five years working at Illumina and, more recently, at Genapsys. The CSO, Doron Lipson, Ph.D., is from Foundation Medicine and is credited with developing clinical assays for biopsies of tissue and liquid.

Ultima also has some deep pockets. The company’s investors include DI Capital Partners, General Atlantic, Lightspeed Venture, and Founders Fund. Most of the investors specialize in Venture Capital and funding start-ups.

Ultima timed the release of the four preprints it offers on the new NGS technology well. It was right before experts in the field headed off to attend the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology (AGBT) conference in Orlando, Florida. Coincidentally, Ultima was one of the three silver sponsors at the meeting. They were set to have a significant presence at the conference and to offer a one-hour workshop and two additional talks.

Only time will tell if this advancement is as significant as some of the ones in the past. One thing is clear, though, NGS is not done evolving.

Taivan Acer
the authorTaivan Acer