Advanced genetic sequencing may be capable of fulfilling one of the greatest promises in medical treatment. It aims to decipher the human genome – our body’s complete set of genetic information – thereby supporting breakthroughs in medical research and treatment. As such, companies leading in this field are aligned with the Hermes Impact Opportunities Fund’s Health and Wellbeing investment theme.

Since a human genome was sequenced for the first time in 2003, researchers have gained unprecedented insights into genetic factors that cause or influence diseases. Today, next-generation sequencing (NGS) is able to handle much higher throughput volume, enabling scientists to progress from sequencing one DNA fragment at a time, to millions in a single run.1

The wealth of genomic data that NGS provides could accelerate progress in precision medicine, tailoring treatments to meet individual needs.

Researchers hope it will eventually help correct genetic deficiencies linked to several diseases, ranging from diabetes to cancer.

Genetic disorders account for 45-51% of deaths in neonatal intensive care units and 60% of end-of-life admissions.2 Treating these gene-related diseases is also the focus of the United Nation’s (UN) third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) – to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all.

MORE DATA, LESS COST

The increasing prominence of genetic sequencing is intrinsically linked to affordability. As the process becomes less expensive, more genes can be sequenced and deeper insights can be obtained from the volumes of data generated.

The cost of genetic sequencing has tumbled. Sequencing the first human genome, achieved by the Human Genome Project in 2003, is estimated to have had a price tag of between $500 million and $1 billion.3 Researchers have now broken the $1000 genome cost barrier, widely considered to be the threshold at which NGS will become commonplace in medicine.

Genetic sequencing, once an expensive tool reserved for academic and government research, is now rapidly beginning to inform clinical practices and even the consumer market. It is likely to reshape medicine as we know it.

Gene Sequencing cost decline (2001-2017)

Source: National Human Genome Research Institute, July 2017

Hermes invests in two companies, Illumina and Qiagen which it believes support the delivery of targets within the UN’s SDG aim of promoting good health and well-being.

CUTTING COSTS

Commanding the majority of market share in the NGS market, Illumina is the key contributor to driving down the cost of genetic sequencing. According to the San Diego-based company, more than 90% of the world’s sequencing data was generated using Illumina technology.4

Illumina is credited as having broken the $1000 genome-sequencing barrier and the company aims to lower costs further. With NovaSeq, the most powerful sequencer that Illumina has launched to date, the company seeks to show that a genome can be sequenced for $100 – much cheaper than most x-rays.5 Launched in 2017, the sequencer’s success has surpassed expectations, resulting in  Illumina achieving a record quarterly revenue in 2018.

Illumina's other investments include Grail, a company whose mission is to create an early stage, universal cancer test, and Helix, a consumer genomics marketplace to democratise access to genetic sequencing.

SUPPORTING POSITIVE CHANGE

While Illumina is a giant in the NGS market, another genome sequencing company, Qiagen, has thrived in a specialist niche – expanding access to NGS for the smaller diagnostic and clinical research markets.

The German company’s GeneReader solution, launched in 2015, focuses on oncology applications. Since then, Qiagen has expanded to target further markets. In 2018, the company announced a foray into analysing hereditary diseases, with applications in the pipeline that range from prenatal testing to infectious-disease genotyping.

By including cutting edge medical research companies like Illumina and Qiagen in the Hermes Impact Opportunities Fund, the asset manager seeks to generate value for investors while also supporting positive and sustainable changes that benefit both society and individuals.

More information about the Hermes Impact Opportunities Fund is available here

1 Key differences between next-generation sequencing and Sanger sequencing
Unlocking the power of the genome
3 The Cost of Sequencing a Human Genome, National Human Genome Research Institute, 2016
4 According to Illumina calculations - 2015
5 The secret genomic revolution, (G.Tett, Financial Times magazine, March 17, 2017

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