And just to be clear, by profitable, I do mean money. Jim Golden describes the problems with using genomics to directly combat cancer (i.e., not basic research; boldface mine):
Every year there are 1.4 – 1.7 million new diagnoses of cancer in the US. Many of those cancer patients are familiar with the latest advances in healthcare technology reported in the media, including insights derived from medical data and personalized medicine. Here’s the challenge facing the treating physician: It costs a lot more than $1000 to sequence a genome. Sure, costs continue to fall but the price today to sequence [minimally] two genomes – from tumor and normal tissue, to analyze the data and have an oncologist interpret that data in terms of clinical recommendation – is between $25K and $100K. That cost is not covered by insurance. And most importantly, you have to know someone. If we set the total current sequencing capacity in the US against the number of new cancers each year we can only sequence a few percent of those patients. To get your cancer genome sequenced you have to have a friend at a genome center who can do the work, perform the analysis and work with a clinical oncologist to optimize therapy. This isn’t going to change any time soon.
On the other hand, microbial genomes are cheap, fast, and you can provide epidemiological relevant information to clinical laboratories, hospital networks, and public health departments. I’m not arguing that we will or should sequence everything–and today that’s not feasible–but in two or three years, I don’t see any technical hurdles to routine microbiological surveillance in hospitals. This is something already being done, just with mid-20th century technology.
Then again, I’m an expert, so there’s a good chance I’m wrong….