$10 Million Up for Grabs in X Prize DNA Sequencing Competition

Large cap companies, small caps or even start-ups and academics with expertise in the human genome have a $10 million prize awaiting them, thanks to the X Prize Foundation. The foundation, which offers prize money for finding solutions to significant global problems, will give the $10 million to the first team to accurately sequence the DNA of 100 centenarians within 30 days at $1,000 or less per genome, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/health/la-sci-venter-q-a-20111029,0,5150663.story). The sequenced genomes will be openly published for use in research, according to the story.

J. Craig Venter, a pioneer in genome sequencing and founder and president of the J. Craig Venter Institute, is co-chair of the X Prize competition, which begins in January 2013 and is sponsored by MedCo. The official name of the contest is the Archon Genomics X Prize.

Venter told the Times that he joined the X Prize competition to encourage the invention of new genome sequencing methods. He considers having a rapid, accurate method of DNA sequencing the key to meaningfully improving its use in medicine.

Venter decided to sequence the genomes of centenarians because they had to have good genes to live to be 100 and they all share a unique trait: “remarkable old age.”

“The DNA sequence is only one component. Without associated information about traits–did your mother have this disease or did your father have it–genetic information is useless,” Venter told the Times.

He predicts having a genome sequenced will quickly become an important part of medicine and it is already playing a role in cancer research. As researchers look at the genetic changes caused by cancer they are finding certain genetic mutations. “One of the first things you will want to know if you have cancer will be if you have any of these genetic mutations,” Venter told the Times.

Large caps like Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies Corporation (Nasdaq: LIFE, http://www.lifetechnologies.com/), which specializes in molecular diagnostics, regenerative sciences and genomic medicine, could make a good run at the $10 million X prize. LIFE, with a $7.3 billion market cap, closed Oct. 31 at $40.67, down $2.35 for the day. Its 52-week range is $35.30-$57.25.

Mountain View, CA-based Complete Genomics (Nasdaq: GNOM, http://www.completegenomics.com/) develops and commercializes a DNA sequencing platform for human genome sequencing and analysis. GNOM introduced a new cancer sequencing service in early October that “addresses the substantial challenges inherent in sequencing cancer genomes,” according to a press release. GNOM, with a market cap of $188.5 million, closed Oct. 31 at $5.70, up 70 cents on the day. Its 52-week range is $4.70-$18.55.

Los Angeles-based Response Genetics (Nasdaq: RGDX, http://www.responsegenetics.com/) is developing tests for types of cancer that identify genetic profiles of tumors that recur after surgery. RGDX has a market cap of $33 million and closed Oct. 31 at $1.70, down 20 cents and near its 52-week low of $1.60. Back in early June it traded for more than $3.

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