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Illumina Goes for the Gold

Posted by Mary Canady June 16th, 2009 .
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Posted by Brian Orelli

Illumina has decided that selling picks and shovels isn’t enough; it’s going for the gold too. Last week the San Diego-based company announced that it’ll be offering a complete genome sequencing service — using its sequencers of course.

The good news is that you’ll be able to get your genome sequenced for half the cost of Illumina’s closest competitor. The bad news is that you’ll still have to shell out $48,000 for the 30X coverage of the 90% of your genome that’s unique enough to be sequenced with the company’s paired-end short-read technology.

To put that in perspective, for that amount you could:

  • Buy this 1-bedroom condo in City Heights
  • Take 488 of your closest friends to a Chargers game.
  • Buy 48 MacBooks; you’ll get a free Apple computer with your sequence on it with your sequencing order though.

Still, getting in now is probably a smart move for Illumina. The price of sequencing is bound to get down to a price that most people can afford it. Working out the kinks — and getting the rich early-adopters to pay for it — is preferable to waiting until there’s a substantial market for the product.

As for San Diego, the announcement likely means a few new jobs for the region as we’re home to Illumina’s new CLIA-certified laboratory. For now the company is sticking with the grunt work and plans to let 23andMe, Navigenics, Decode Genetics, and Knome do the fun part of interpreting what the genetic variations might mean for the patient.

That might be a short-sighted move as Daniel MacArthur of Genetic Future points out. Sequencing could become a low-margin business if competition becomes tight when next-next-generation sequencers become available. Concentrating on hocking the higher-margin sequencers and/or developing a system for interpreting the data might be a better move.

Only time will tell if Illumina has hit gold or pyrite.

Brian Orelli is a freelance analyst/writer based in San Diego. You can find his take on the healthcare industry at places such as The Motley Fool and Nature Biotechnology. You can follow him on twitter @BiologyFool or reach him by e-mail at Brian.Orelli at


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SDBN July 21st Event Featuring Fate Therapeutics and Stemgent

Posted by Mary Canady June 15th, 2009 .
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The San Diego Biotechnology Network is pleased to feature Fate Therapeutics and Stemgent at our July 21st networking event. These two companies represent exciting, interdisciplinary biotechnology research being done in San Diego that holds direct promise for making a difference in our quality of life. The event will feature a short talk followed by networking with the speakers and scientists from the two companies. As usual, we hope that the casual atmosphere at our venue, Tango del Rey, will stimulate discussions and meaningful interactions for all in attendance. We also encourage you to utilize the online tools available to communicate before, during, and after the event.

CATALYST: The Industrialization of Advanced iPSC Technology for Drug Discovery & Development

Dan Shoemaker, Ph.D., CTO (Fate), Stephen Chang, Ph.D., CSO (Stemgent) will present a short talk describing CATALYST:

  • Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are considered to be of great potential for toxicity testing, disease research and primary drug screening.
  • Catalyst is an alliance between Fate Therapeutics and Stemgent to translate groundbreaking induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) discoveries into cutting-edge iPSC technologies with standardized and optimized products and services for Catalyst Members to have exclusive access to a new paradigm in drug discovery and development.
  • The alliance is a powerful aggregation of complementary expertise, foundational intellectual property and scientific founders and advisory board members.
  • Catalyst Members will benefit from Fate’s expertise in stem cell biology research and the discovery and development of small molecules and biologics to modulate cell fate combined with Stemgent’s expertise in superior reagent design, production capabilities and customer support.

About Fate Therapeutics, Inc.

Fate Therapeutics is interrogating adult stem cell biology and applying induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology to develop Stem Cell Modulators (SCMs), small molecule or biologic compounds that guide cell fate for therapeutic purposes. Fate’s approach has broad therapeutic potential in areas such as regenerative medicine, hematological diseases, metastatic cancer, traumatic injury and degenerative diseases. In addition, Fate Therapeutics and Stemgent have formed an alliance – Catalyst – a collaborative program to provide Catalyst Members with first access to the most advanced iPSC technologies for drug discovery and development. Fate Therapeutics is headquartered in La Jolla, CA. For more information, please visit

About Stemgent

Stemgent helps our customers advance stem cell science by providing proprietary reagents and technologies developed by some of the world’s leading stem cell scientists. Stemgent’s product offering includes virus-delivered reprogramming factors for iPS cell generation, cytokines and matrices for healthy stem cell growth, primary and reporter cell lines, stem cell characterization tools, polymers for transfection, and small molecules for reprogramming, self-renewal and differentiation. This unique product mix is designed to serve researchers who study stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, and those who use cells derived from stem cells to advance their understanding of major diseases. For more information visit us at

Event Details

Who: Biotechnology professionals in the greater San Diego area
What: San Diego Biotechnology Network’s July Networking Event Featuring Fate Therapeutics and Stemgent
When: Tuesday, July 21st, 5:30-9:00 p.m.
Where: Tango Del Rey, 3567 Del Rey Street, San Diego 92109 (Directions below)
Cost: $20, including appetizers ($15 for Academics) +$5 at door
For more information about the event:

Directions: From the North: South on Interstate 5, Exit Balboa Ave, Straight to 4th Traffic Light then left on Bunker Hill St. Building directly ahead 3 blks. From the South: North on Interstate 5, Exit Grand/ Garnet Ave, Straight to 3rd Traffic Light then right on Bunker Hill St. Building directly ahead 3 blks.


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Social Media for Scientists Slidecast

Posted by Mary Canady June 5th, 2009 .
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Thanks again to everyone who participated in our event last week! It was a ‘first’ for many things and I’m proud to announce that with your help we pulled almost everything off. We didn’t get a full video of the event, but re-recorded the audio and posted it on Slideshare (also embedded above).
Thanks also to Proven Scientific for sponsoring, and to volunteers John Cox, Cathy Yarbrough, Richard Ludwig, Caron Golden, Julie Wright, Steve Ohrmund, and Luigi (Lou) Schioppi. William Gunn is truly a rock star and you’ll be hearing more from him with the SDBN in the future. As we mentioned, we’ve created a friendfeed room to help you start getting involved in social media, please join. In addition, we also ‘took to heart’ the fact that many of you are already on Facebook, so we created a new fan page, check it out! Let’s see what works best, that’s what it’s all about!
We don’t have our next event scheduled, but it will likely be mid July. Stay tuned and connected to the SDBN channel!


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About last night…

Posted by Mary Canady May 29th, 2009 .
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THANKS to everyone for last night’s Social Media for Scientists event! I’ll post more info soon, but if you’re logging on looking for the ‘preso’ it can be found here:

Join the friendfeed group too!

More soon…



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BIO 2009: Stem Cell Companies’ ‘Fate’ Relies on Interdisciplinary Business Models

Posted by Mary Canady May 19th, 2009 .
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I attended the ‘Mastering Your (Cell) Fate: Stem Cells, iPSCs and the Future of Medicine’ session at BIO on Monday, which featured a panel of specialists: G. Steven Burrill, CEO, Burrill & Company, Aaron Rowe, Reporter, Wired News, Paul Grayson, CEO, Fate Therapeutics, Ian Ratcliffe, CEO, Stemgent, and Richard Gregory, Senior VP Head of Research, Genzyme. Members of the audience included biotech professionals, media, and even some patients who were eager to hear about the progress of iPSC therapies. iPSCs are ‘induced Pluripotent Stem Cells’ which are mature adult cells which have been ‘reprogrammed,’ in contrast to embryonic stem cells (for a full description see Stem Cells 101 on Fate Therapeutics’ website).
The panel discussed the fact that although stem cell research is gaining a lot of attention recently, therapies involving cell treatments have been around for years, bone marrow transplants as a prime example. Nevertheless, Burrill pointed out that venture capital is still mostly on the sidelines when it comes to stem cell funding. Reasons? Burrill said that a big issue is the perceived risk of getting stem cell therapies through the FDA along with the fact that startup companies are often preoccupied with the science and don’t develop a viable business model early. Someone in the audience commented that the challenges facing stem cell companies currently may be similar to those faced by other non-small molecule therapies such as Biologics, which didn’t ‘take off’ until a blockbuster drug hit the market. The panel consensus was that most of the research is actually being done in academia, with Stemgent’s Ratcliffe commenting that most of their customers come from this sector.
After the session, I spoke with Fate Therapeutics CEO Paul Grayson, and we discussed their unique strategies for overcoming these perceived challenges. Fate received generous VC funding early from ARCH, Polaris, and Venrock, likely due to the fact that their founders and management are a veritable ‘who’s who’ in stem cell research and technologies. In addition, they maintain close ties with academic institutions such as Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), Stanford University, University of Washington and the Whitehead Institute. Fate continues to ‘think outside of the box’ when it comes to creating a workable business model, and has recently partnered with Stemgent, also based in San Diego, to create an unprecedented interdisciplinary agreement called ‘Catalyst‘ which represents a new paradigm in which pharma, early stage biotech, and academia will work together to create the research tools which will be directly used to develop therapeutics. In exchange for annual funding from pharmaceutical companies (Grayson says they are targeting up to 5 companies for a total of $50M), Fate and Stemgent will create tools which will be accessible only to member companies. Dr. Sheng Ding, founder of both Fate and Stemgent, is an Associate Professor at TSRI, bringing cutting edge research from academia to the collaboration.
Grayson says that the Catalyst collaboration has been helped by the translational medicine movement, in which academic scientists focus on the applicability of their research to public needs. In the BIO iPSC Panel, it was estimated that around 100 stem cell companies currently exist, and Grayson estimates that only 20 will be still standing after two years. With the looming uncertainties in risk and regulatory issues, it may be likely that such interdisciplinary collaborations will be needed to help stem cell companies and technologies to succeed.
On a regional note, I’m working on featuring Fate at one of our upcoming San Diego Biotechnology Network events, as they are exemplary of our vision to bring different sectors and disciplines together to stimulate growth in our region as well as in biotechnology in general. Stay tuned!