Accelerating Implementation: Unlocking the Potential of Next-Generation Sequencing
Contributed Commentary by Linda De Jesus, VP/GM, Integrated DNA Technologies Global Head of Commercial
May 5, 2023 | Next-generation sequencing (NGS) has revolutionized molecular biology and served as a universal tool for many research avenues across the spectrum of biology. NGS has become crucial in various applications. In agriculture, it is used for adapting crops to our changing world and as an essential infectious disease control tool for detecting novel SARS-CoV-2 variants and emerging outbreaks using wastewater surveillance.
NGS has also been instrumental in initiating a new era of personalized medicine—opening the door for gene therapies and new-age diagnostics to be developed. As these research efforts mature into concepts with broader societal benefits, the need to commercialize NGS-based tools has emerged. However, with the NGS market expanding from mostly academic research-based applications to now include biotech and biopharma companies eager to commercialize NGS solutions, three key barriers—time, cost, and expertise—are holding back the potential of NGS and the full impact it could have on society.
Time. Speed is an essential factor that needs to be optimized so NGS can reach its full potential. Sequencing is a time-consuming process, with runs taking anywhere from hours to days to complete, and it comes on top of the time it takes to prepare the sample and analyze the data. This time lag can slow the speed of information in NGS-based research, as projects get put on hold, and researchers wait to get their sequencing data. It also represents a crucial roadblock for patient diagnostics, where time is of the essence.
Along with the time needed for sequencing, cost has also been prohibitive for NGS. It can hold back NGS applications and make them inaccessible for those with smaller budgets. It can hinder the implementation of wastewater surveillance efforts for detecting infectious disease outbreaks and can become an issue with sequencing-based therapeutics and diagnostics that can create access issues for patients who need them.
While newer sequencer models like bench top sequencers are more affordable, they can come at a higher cost per sample. Companies that support newer sequencing platforms that promise lower sequencing costs can help alleviate the financial burden. Targeted sequencing—like research area-specific panels—can also help reduce costs.
Expertise. In addition to time and cost, expertise is key in NGS. One aspect is the need for bioinformatics know-how to use all the information from the large datasets generated by NGS, which some of the more advanced or automated software can help meet. Software platforms with purpose-built informatics and an easy-to-interpret interface can also help.
Expertise is also critical to evolving an NGS-based tool from the research phase to a commercialized product. The commercialization process can be a significant bottleneck that slows down the path of getting NGS-based research tools to market. It requires technical know-how and the ability to develop the product. That is where researchers can and do lean on companies' knowledge as they help scientists get through the commercialization process much faster.
These barriers represent significant and critical hurdles for realizing the potential of NGS. Though NGS has become a universal tool with many far-reaching effects on society, overcoming these barriers would accelerate advances that would substantially impact everyone. In agriculture, NGS has contributed to the development of wheat that could reduce cancer risk and is needed to develop further smarter crops that can grow in targeted environments, alter environmental impacts, and develop allergen-free food sources.
NGS is also needed to accelerate patient diagnostics and bring patients results in the span of days—or even hours—instead of weeks. NGS has the power to transform oncology and could allow for diagnostic cancer panels containing 20-30 tests simultaneously, bringing much-needed clarity to patients and allowing them to start treatment plans tailored to their tumors earlier. It has also allowed residual tumor cells to be detected after treatment by sequencing cell-free tumor DNA from a blood sample.
In summary, NGS has become a crucial tool that has the potential to bring about impactful advancements across the world of biology. To fully realize its potential, solutions are being developed to reduce the time and cost needed for NGS and make it more efficient and accessible. Additionally, utilizing existing expertise will streamline the implementation of NGS-based tools and products. By eliminating the barriers holding NGS back from its full potential, society can reap the full benefits of its wide-ranging applications faster.
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Linda De Jesus is vice president and general manager, global head of commercial at Integrated DNA Technologies, a global genomics solutions provider. She brings over 20 years of international life sciences leadership experience from her diverse career in general management and commercial functions. She has a track record of successful execution for high-growth businesses spanning pharmaceutical, biopharma, biotechnology, and academic areas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.