When I first saw this TechCrunch article “Genomics Needs A Killer App“, I thought it was April Fool’s Day come early (an aside: how about funding the applied genetics we already know to do? Just asking). But in fact, it seems to be serious. Once again, we get to witness the sorry spectacle of someone missing the most obvious and immediate commercialization of genomics*: clinical microbial genomics (the word microbe isn’t even in the post).
On the other hand, microbial genomes are cheap, fast, and you can provide epidemiologically 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.
Lest you think this solely the fevered imagination of the Mad Biologist, Biomérieux–the largest microbial clinical testing company–and Illumina have formed a joint venture to develop genome-wide microbial diagnostics. Here’s why (boldface mine):
…in combating the spread of infectious disease, the genome sequence itself–more accurately, converting that sequence into useful information–is the [clinical] intervention. Knowing that you’re at risk for an outbreak, or experiencing one–hospital outbreaks, unlike food poisoning take place over a span of months–is critical so you can take preventative measures.
When you factor in how much hospital infections cost, a cheap microbial genome is worth the money. And that’s before you get to things like food safety–which is already being done.
But have fun burning through VC cash and tilting at windmills, CEOs…
*Truth be told, it sounds like a CEO attempting to pump a generic form of his business model. Journalism at its finest.