A Need for Speed: Illumina Acquires San Diego’s Edico Genome

Xconomy San Diego — 

With the Bio-IT World Conference opening today in Boston, San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) said it has acquired Edico Genome, a five-year-old startup with  technology to accelerate the readout of next-generation sequencing data.

Illumina withheld terms of the deal in a statement released this morning. But an Illumina spokeswoman later confirmed that Illumina got Edico for $100 million, close to three times the estimated $32 million that Edico raised in venture funding from Qualcomm Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital, and individual investors.

Edico developed technology that combines a specialized processor and chipset with proprietary software to address a bottleneck in the process of reading the short DNA segments produced in genome sequencing, and aligning them with a reference genome. It’s a computationally intensive process referred to as genome “mapping” that Edico initially reduced from 20 hours to 20 minutes.

Last year, Edico adapted its technology for use with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other cloud platforms, which dramatically increased its scalability (and available processing power) and made it possible to map a genome in near real time. Edico says its Dragen Bio-IT platform is available to run on a customer’s premises, in the cloud, or in a hybrid mode, and it is compatible for use with multiple data storage providers and analysis pipelines.

In recent years, AWS also has been significantly expanding its business in healthcare and life sciences. So while the Edico acquisition represents a good fit with Illumina’s technology, the deal also provides a possible added benefit of forestalling an AWS buyout of useful technology for processing genomic data.

In today’s statement, Susan Tousi, Illumina’s senior vice president of product development, says, “Our acquisition of Edico Genome is a big step toward realizing the vision of reducing sequencing data acquisition and analysis to a push-button, standardized process.”

In response to a query from Xconomy, an Illumina spokeswoman said Edico’s technology “complements Illumina’s sequencing portfolio, enabling customers to benefit from reduced investment in compute infrastructure and accelerated time to result, improving their overall efficiency and enabling greater emphasis on interpretation and reporting.”

Illumina’s statement also includes a call for the scientific community to adopt standards for genomics in health from Anthony Philippakis, chief data officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. In a 2015 commentary for Xconomy, Edico founder and CEO Pieter van Rooyen issued a similar call to create shared standards for genomic data sequencing that would create a common framework for data analysis and interpretation.

“To me, this is just more evidence that the boundary between the life sciences and data science is blurring, and that you need to bring more resources to bear,” said Ashley Van Zeeland, the former CEO of Cypher Genomics (now part of Human Longevity Inc.), who is now working as an industry consultant.

In a research note this morning, analyst Puneet Souda of Leerink Partners wrote, “We see this as a positive and despite the competition in FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays), GPUs (Graphical Processing Units) and faster code—we see ILMN taking another step to ensure that data analysis does not hold back the progress of enormous data being generated by NovaSeq platforms around the world. The financial impact was already built into ILMN’s 2018 guide and ILMN gets 50 of Edico’s employees with the acquisition.”