After having spent almost $4M on 23andMe, which plans to make the human genome searchable and whose founder is the wife of Google’s Sergey Brin, last year and is in heavy preparation for the launch of the Google Health, Google has now financially backed a project from a Harvard University scientist to unlock the secrets of common diseases by decoding the DNA of 100,000 people.
The project is said will be the largest human genome sequencing project in the world, and may lead to new cures for disease. Under the public information available it is a Harvard University scientist and OrbiMed Advisors LLC that plan to unlock the secrets of common diseases by decoding the DNA.
Harvard’s George Church plans to spend $1 billion to tie DNA information to each person’s health history, creating a database for finding new medicines. The U.S., U.K., China and Sweden this year began working together to decipher the genetic makeup of 1,000 people at a cost of $50 million.
Google, owner of the most popular Internet search engine, is looking for ways to give people greater control over their medical data. The amount of money donated to the Church by Google is not disclosed publicly. Google also said last week that it would work with the Cleveland Clinic to better organize health records.
Church’s plan “would be the largest human genome sequencing project in the world,” Stephen Elledge, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg. “The genetic variations are what make people different, and we need to understand the connections to human disease. They’ll get a tremendous amount of information from this,” said Elledge, who isn’t involved in the project.
Church, who helped develop the first direct genomic sequencing method in 1984, said that while he plans to enroll 100,000 participants, he may not end it there – the plan might be to go for 1 million.
If we can expand the project, we’ll probably go for a million genomes, Church said. Since 1984, Church has advised 22 companies including Helicos Biosciences Inc., which recently began selling high-speed gene sequencers, and 23andMe.
The current project may ideally fit with the overall strategy of Google Health, which is in launching stage now. Google Health plans to help people manage their medical records and test results so they can be shared safely and privately with various specialists. Genomic data may eventually be included, said Marissa Mayer, vice president for search products.
The further involvement of Google into the DNA space has very negative impact on the public markets for some of the current players such as Helicos Biosciences Inc., Illumina, Applied Biosystems and Danaher, which all have their stock declined after the announcement and have lost part of their market capitalization.
Church has already partially sequenced genomes from 10 people, and the jump to 100,000 is under review by a Harvard ethics panel.
About George Church
George Church is Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Center for Computational Genetics. His 1984 Harvard PhD included the first direct genomic sequencing method. He co-initiated the Human Genome Project a few months later as a postdoctoral fellow at Biogen & UCSF. Innovations include molecular multiplexing & tags, homologous recombination methods, array DNA synthesizers & automated sequencing & software (used at Genome Therapeutics Corp. for the first commercial genome sequence — human pathogen, H. pylori, 1994). Current research focuses on the Personal Genome Project & synthetic biology.