Creating a COVID-19 vaccine was a highly collaborative effort between scientists across different realms of biotechnology research. Among these contributing groups of scientists is Illumina, a company that has dedicated itself to genetic variation and biological function studies since 1998, sequencing DNA, and genotyping to learn gene expressions.
Chief Executive Officer of Illumina, Francis deSouza, said that he got goosebumps when he watched videos of the mRNA vaccines that his team worked so hard to develop, being dispatched on trucks to various aid locations. Illumina manufactured machines that decode genomes and its NovaSeq model is responsible for the decoding of the COVID-19 genome, which the company published online on January 10, 2020 after months of work in Wuhan after the emergence of the virus.
The company is also responsible for significantly driving down the price of genome sequencing. deSouza explains that thanks to Illumina, genome sequencing went from $150,000 in 2006, to a current price of $600. He states that his team hopes to drive down the cost to $100 per test in the future.
Beyond COVID-19 applications, Illumina has jumped into the field of cancer testing with its proposed purchase of Grail, a company which uses DNA sequencing technology developed by Illumina to create comprehensive screening tests for various types of cancer. Currently, Grail is in the middle of a clinical study that is testing 100,000 people for cancer via blood tests.
Illumina has been the largest player in the field of genomic sequencing in 2020, with nearly $656 million dollars in profits on $3.2 billion in sales, and the company hopes that this new
acquisition will help solidify its stock value and lock in potential for future endeavors.
“Grail is an important step,” said Puneet Souda, Analyst at investment bank SVB Leerink. “We are looking at a more than $50 billion market opportunity with multi-cancer screening.”
deSouza however, remains adamant that his main priority with the company is to drive down the cost of its technology to be more accessible to the masses, branding the post-COVID era as “the era of the genome.”