what if DNA sequencing became a new routine examination?

Human DNA sequencing has long been a cumbersome process. Today, Ultima, an Israeli-American start-up, claims to be able to do it for only 100 dollars. This is six times less than the lowest price so far.

For this, the sequencer uses an optical approach. To simplify to the extreme, the DNA is deposited on a kind of spinning disc, like a CD, while a camera follows a line on this disc to analyze it again and again. The Ultima process, “which sometimes boils down”says an expert interviewed by Fast Company magazine, “to find a needle in a haystack”, would go twice as fast as the other techniques. The problem, according to a professor from Harvard Medical School at Fast Company, is that the more rudimentary method would also be less precise than its competitors, resulting in a higher error rate in sequencing. . But even without 100% accuracy, Ultima can play its role, such as identifying the possible presence of a tumor in a DNA sequence.

Startup Ultima was founded in 2016, but has spent six years in what’s called stealth mode, without communicating with the media and general public. The founder is called Gilad Almogy, a specialist in physics and optics, trained at CalTech, one of the best engineering schools in the world. In particular, he has developed machines capable of detecting manufacturing defects on semiconductors, which can be compared with the analysis of a DNA sequence.

And then, he is a brother and husband of doctors. He realized by listening to them of their difficulties in establishing precise diagnoses based on the declaration of patients. For him, doctors need data and data, there is a lot in a genome. He teamed up with biologists and chemists in Israel to help him in a field he did not know well. And he found investors. And this summer, Ultima announced that it had raised $600 million.

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Twenty years ago, sequencing a single person’s DNA cost nearly $100 million. Impossible to have an impact on mainstream medicine at that price. Fortunately, innovation has, as often, changed everything. Illumina, the industry giant, with a near-monopoly, managed to offer $1,000 sequencing as early as 2014. And so now Ultima has an option ten times cheaper. So much so that we can start thinking of sequencing as an annual routine examination.

It is potentially revolutionary for detecting cancers very early on at low cost, for developing suitable drugs or for making precise diagnoses, notes the New York Times, which however specifies that a Chinese company has also promised inexpensive sequencing in 2020, which has still not come true.

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