Forbes: Gene Editing, Obesity Drugs and Long-Living Dogs: The Year in Biotech
By Alex Knapp
Like a lot of sectors, the biopharma industry kicked off a tumultuous year with a number of shakeups. Big and small biotech companies alike saw thousands of layoffs, not to mention significant leadership changes.
But 2023 also saw a number of technological advancements hit some major milestones, not to mention some big changes in how investors are approaching the sector. “There's gonna be a lot of building this year,” Vijay Pande, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz had predicted to Forbes in January — and he wasn’t wrong.
Whole Genome Sequencing Enters The Clinic
Since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, there have been significant advances in genome sequencing, making it better, faster and more useful. To get the speed required for applications like diagnostics, sequencers would chop DNA up into tiny bits so they could be quickly “read” and put in order. This produced powerful advances but limited how much information researchers and doctors could obtain about a person’s genes.
That’s recently changed with the advent of what’s called “whole genome” sequencing, which allows DNA to be cut in larger chunks in ways that make it easier for sequencing machines to put them back together in the right order. This technology enables an understanding of the structure of a person’s DNA, which provides a better understanding of how those genes actually work in a person’s body.
In 2023, whole genome sequencing made some strides out of research labs and public health applications and into actual clinical practice. Earlier this month, Orchid, a startup backed by 23andMe Cofounder Anne Wojcicki and Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, announced that its whole genome sequencing of embryos is now available in IVF clinics. These reports enable prospective parents to screen embryos for genetic risks and improve the chance of having a viable pregnancy.
And in October, Kansas City-based Children’s Mercy Hospital announced it was putting its whole genome sequencers, manufactured by PacBio, into clinical practice. This will enable the hospital to accelerate its ability to diagnose genetic diseases in its patients, Tomi Pastinen, the hospital’s genomic medicine director, told Forbes. He added that he also hopes that his hospital’s decision will inspire others to do the same. “We hope that clinical adoption is the catalyst to really open the floodgates for these types of genome sequencing,” he added.
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