Imagine a platform that enables you to pick and choose from a series of applications so you can interact with your own genomic data. Helix, a $100 million company formed by several corporate partners, plans to leverage the expertise of laboratories to provide that service to consumers.
Illumina, Inc., a global leader in DNA sequencing and array-based technologies, recently teamed up with private equity firm Warburg Pincus, Sutter Hill Ventures and Mayo Clinic to form Helix and create a new marketplace where consumers can discover the story of their own DNA, so to speak, by accessing this platform. “Genomics is reaching an inflection point in cost, volumes, and knowledge, creating a significant opportunity to unlock information that is currently not widely accessible to individuals,” Illumina CEO Jay Flatley, who will serve as Helix’s board chairman, said in a statement issued by Illumina. “Helix and its founding investors are committed to creating a neutral platform at the highest quality standard that will work with partners to accelerate consumer adoption of genomics.”
According to the Helix website, a laboratory will be offering next-generation sequencing services to consumers. Genetic information will be converted and securely stored as digital data in the cloud-based platform. Helix is building one of the world’s largest next-generation sequencing labs in San Diego to process consumer samples, Justin Kao, Helix’s senior vice president of corporate development, operations, and strategy, told CLN Stat.
“After being sequenced, individuals will be able to manage their data and explore an open marketplace of on-demand applications, provided by Helix’s partners, to gain additional insights into the genomic data that has already been acquired,” according to Illumina’s statement.
In other words, the platform will be able to connect users with companies that can analyze their genetic data. Any consumer that wants to find out something about their DNA can download an app from one of Helix’s partnering organizations, and, for a fee, send in a sample for analysis.
“We expect to have a top-notch team of geneticists, bioinformaticians, and other scientists to support our efforts,” Kao said.
Several companies are already working with Helix on a collaborative basis to develop genome-based apps. If a consumer wants to know more about medically actionable medical conditions, they may decide to access the app from Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings. Or, if they have health-related questions, they might contact Helix’s other partner to date, the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Individualized Medicine.
The expectation is other partnering companies will eventually offer apps on health, fitness, diet, physical traits, genealogy, family, and personal care. “We are currently in dialogue with many potential partners in addition to the two we have announced,” Kao said.
Some skeptics have questioned Helix’s practical uses for the average consumer.
“So far, interest by consumers in genomics has been fairly tepid,” one article in MIT Technology Review noted. “Who do you know whose genome has been sequenced? The problem is that for healthy people, the genome just isn’t that important. What does it mean? What is it good for? Even though sequencing a genome has become much cheaper, just a couple of thousand dollars, to most people, finding out isn’t worth the cost.”