Shades of 1993: GET Conference to Search for the Killer App in Personal Genetics

Last Updated Mar 3, 2010 2:33 PM EST

Where's the killer app?
The hottest ticket for anyone interested in the future of genetics -- and the new businesses that will emerge from the field -- is the Genomes Environments Traits (GET) conference, which will take place in Cambridge, MA on April 27th, 2010. As scientists and business people look towards full genome mapping as the key to personalized medicine -- and the businesses and technology applications that will support it -- the GET conference is an important meeting ground for early adopters, business leaders and scientists.

"The Personal Genome industry seems analogous to the Internet just before the first browser in 1993," George Church, the head of the Harvard's Personal Genome Project, said in an email to me. "That is to say, lots of know-how and infrastructure, but waiting for a definitive nudge. Seeing the diverse views and experiences of the earliest adopters of genomics could be just such an event -- and, at a minimum, fascinating."
All industry eyes are focused on where that nudge will come from, and the best direction for the genetics business to take. The Holy Grail is a genomic application that will do for genome interpretation what the Mosaic graphical browser did for the Internet.
Fewer than 20 people worldwide have had their full genomes sequenced -- and all of them will be at GET. The list of attendees includes George Church, the head of Harvard's Personal Genome Project; Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard's literary critic and professor, who recently produced a series about genetics on PBS called Faces of America; James Watson, the scientist who started it all with his discovery of the DNA double helix; and Stephen Quake, a professor of bio-engineering at Stanford University School of Medicine who made news last August for mapping his genome in less than a week for $50,000 with a new technology called a Heliscope Single Molecule Sequencer, which is made by the company he founded called Helicos BioSciences.
The search for the killer app issue will a key discussion in a session that will highlight the next generation of personalized genetics products and services. During a recent panel that took place at The San Francisco Jewish Community Federation's Business Leadership Council, called Exploring Personal Genetics: The Brave New World, Michael Goldberg, a partner with Mohr Davidow Ventures, said: "Moore's Law has now been married to biology in ways that were only conceptualized in the 1990s." As a result, investors, entrepreneurs and scientists predict that once genome sequencing becomes faster and more affordable, it will become a vital tool for making clinical diagnoses and care decisions. But given that consumer knowledge of genetics is not yet mainstream, the key remains to invent applications that will make genome reading and interpretation simple -- while also focusing public awareness on what genetic tools can actually do.

Photo: Aleiex