• Kirk Hartley

DNAnexus and Google – Free DNA Biocomputing is on the Horizon

For scientists, data is key. So, it’s relevant to note that we are close to the day of commercially managed but freely accessible DNA databases in the "cloud." Set out below are key excerpts from this article by Arik Hesseldahl at All Things Digital regarding a start-up known as DNAnexus.

Beyond science, think also about the possibilities for litigation. As GE might say, imagine the possibilities when data is widely and freely shared along with medical histories which are real but blinded to preserve privacy. Thus, for example, think about the possibilities for asbestos litigation. Imagine a database with DNA analysis from all the mesothelioma pathology samples held by Dr. Victor Roggli at Duke. Or, imagine plaintiff’s firms obtaining client permissions, and then collaborating to provide genomic data from all of their mesothelioma patients. Or, if the plaintiff’s firms will not take that step, imagine chapter 11 asbestos trusts requiring submission of tissue as a condition for collecting money from the trusts. Or, perhaps insurers might even break down and spend money on such an effort. They should, because finding cures for cancers ultimately will be cheaper than paying the bills that will come due when health insurance claims and tort litigation increase in waves as global cancer rates double by 2020 and triple by 2030.

Some key excerpts from the article on the DNA database effort by Google and DNAnexus:

"Google, he said, will collaborate with DNAnexus to provide access to a huge archive of publicly available DNA information. The archive will take over where the federal government’s National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) is leaving off, after being shut down because of budget cuts.

DNAnexus and Google have teamed up to take over that database and will continue to provide access — for free — to medical researchers. It will now live in Google’s cloud, and researchers will now have a new, easy-to-use interface for accessing it. It represents the largest single dataset ever put on Google’s infrastructure by a third party.

Don’t mourn the government effort. DNA databases are probably better handled by the private sector, Sundquist says, mainly because sequencing a genome, which used to require NASA-sized multibillion-dollar budgets that only big governments can sustain, is no longer so complicated or expensive."


“The reason we started the company is that we started to see that DNA sequencing was getting about 10 time cheaper every 18 months,” he told me. “Ten years ago it cost about $3 billion to sequence a human genome. Now you can do it for about $4,000. It’s like Moore’s Law on crack. In a few years it will be less than $1,000.”

That kind of cost reduction means there’s likely going to be an explosion in the amount of DNA information collected, the kind of surge that Google is uniquely capable of scaling up to manage. “We’re moving from a world where practically no one has their DNA sequences to a world where nearly everyone does, and it just becomes a part of your medical record,” Sundquist says. “The question is, how do you manage all that. It’s one of the biggest and most complex sets of data in the world.”


Who would pay for it? Anyone who needs DNA sequencing work done: Medical researchers, drug companies, medical doctors. DNAnexus will do the heavy lifting associated with getting the sequencing done. Beyond that, it will manage the ever-growing trove of DNA data and provide all the computing tools that those customers need in the course of doing their work, via a SaaS platform. It already has customers in academia, at places like Stanford University and Harvard University; at pharma companies; and even practicing medical pros in their day-to-day practices, using DNA information to improve their health care and diagnosis problems.



About Kirk

Since becoming a lawyer in 1983, Kirk’s over 30 years of practice have focused on advising a wide range of corporations, associations, and individuals (as both plaintiffs and defendants) on both tort and commercial law issues centered around “mass torts.”


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