It has been a predictably pedestrian JP Morgan Healthcare Conference for the genomics market. Illumina, PacBio, and Ultima Genomics all made big announcements earlier this year. As such, JPM is more of a “status update” for them. The two non-stealth candidates for juicy updates are Singular Genomics and Element Biosciences. On Monday Singular came out with a very modest announcement - they shipped five instruments and recognized a little bit of revenue. Element, on the other hand, has attempted to steal the show by announcing the availability of the $200 genome on their AVITI benchtop sequencer. This beats Illumina to the punch by at least six months.
At first I was quite intrigued as it had appeared that Element had broken the universal rule of sequencing: you can have an inexpensive sequencer or an inexpensive genome, but not both. But as I re-read their press release I started having doubts which turned out to be well founded. To get the $200 genome you have to buy THREE Aviti sequencers. You get a discount when you buy three, but it still costs you $750k. You also have to commit to run all three at max capacity of 1000 genomes per year each, for a total of 3000 genomes. So they haven’t quite uncoupled inexpensive genomes from expensive instruments.
But this is still good news, right? Having another option for the $200 genome is a good thing. But I’m not completely sure how much of the market this is a good fit for. The $750k equipment purchase is cheaper than then $1.25M NovaSeq X Plus, but combined they only have 1/7th the 20k yearly throughput of the NovaSeq. So, if you need around 3k genomes per year, it’s a good fit. If you have exactly 3000 samples, it’s ~$56 cheaper ($283 vs $389; assumes 3 year instrument amortization). Any deviation from 3k and the delta becomes smaller. Between 4k-5k (which would require five AVITIs) the prices are identical. Above 5k and the NovaSeq is always cheaper. (Going below 3k is a little complicated. The NovaSeq is cheaper once you get down to 2.1k samples, but the Aviti takes over again at around 800 samples. But at this point it almost certainly would be cheaper to outsource to someone with a NovaSeq.)
So Element certainly wins points for beating Illumina to the $200 genome, but once the 25B flow cell becomes available, it only really makes sense for researchers with 2000-4000 samples per year. So, it’s a very nice addition to the competitive marketspace, but maybe not quite the “Illumina killer” it appears to be.