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Illumina's New Low-Cost Genome Machine Will Change Health Care Forever

Illumina is betting the answer is yes
CEO Jay Flatley at Illumina’s San Diego headquarters
CEO Jay Flatley at Illumina’s San Diego headquartersPhotograph by Bryan Sheffield for Bloomberg Businessweek

Dr. Bradley Patay, who is tanned and handsome, with a constant smile that pushes the limits of cheek physics, has an office at the Scripps Clinic, next to the Torrey Pines Golf Course and the Pacific Ocean. An internal medicine specialist, he also happens to be very well versed in genetics. If, like me, you’ve had your entire genome sequenced, Dr. Patay can tell you what the results mean. He’ll pull your data up on a computer and show you how to explore your own genetic makeup. Having this genome decoding skill makes him a rarity for the moment. “I want to be prepared when people come in with their data and explain it to them in a competent manner,” he says. Soon, your doctor may work this way, too.

Quietly and dramatically, genetics-based medicine has taken off in just the last couple of years. For about a decade, biotech companies had been haunted by their own hype. The promise of sequencing technology was that the mysterious triggers of disease would be uncovered and cataloged. The cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and strokes would then follow. Instead, extracting information from DNA proved more costly, time consuming, and difficult than backers of the science either believed or let on from the outset.